(This editorial was published in the June 18 Bemidji Pioneer.)
Music and the arts play an important role in society, and should be a part of public school education. But what priority should be assigned to such programs?
Ahead of reading, writing and arithmetic? Are they more important than physical education or home economics?
The Bemidji School District, facing serious financial challenges, cut some programs and teachers to balance its budget. One victim: A middle school music position.
Concerned parents and others at a school board meeting this week made several pitches to retain that post, some of which should merit consideration -- and caution.
Put on the table were plans for charging admission to concerts, or accepting donations instead, or by holding various fund-raisers. Some high school music teachers even offered to forego some high school extracurricular music programs if the funds instead beef up the middle school's program.
All solutions seem honorable, but must be considered with caution. What happens when a mainline academic program is privately funded? What happens if funding in a given year slips? Especially important, what kind of precedence does privately funding an academic program set?
Athletics is a good example. Football is an extracurricular event, and subject to ticket sales and tailgate fund-raisers. While a good addition to the public school program, it is an extra and is funded that way.
Middle school music is an academic program, not an extra. What if next year a foreign language is on the chopping block?
... There is no doubt that some sort of fee should be charged for concerts, which could be considered as extracurricular events. And fund-raisers could be held to defray concert expenses or instruments. But if the music position is deemed important to the academic program, it should be funded through the district's budget.
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