$40 million for arts education threatened in federal budget fight


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Federal funding totaling $40 million for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ educational programs, arts education grants for the disabled and grants to train arts teachers are just some of the arts-related programs on the chopping block as Congress and the Obama administration wrangle over how much to cut the 2010-11 federal budget.

The cut was included Wednesday as President Obama signed a temporary budget resolution designed to keep the government operating through March 18 while the White House and congressional Democrats and Republicans continue talks to reach a final budget agreement.


The Kennedy Center’s spokesman, John Dow, said Thursday that cuts would total $16 million for the Kennedy Center and its affiliate, VSA (formerly Very Special Arts), which has a national and international scope in supporting arts learning for the disabled. VSA is part of the Kennedy family’s legacy, having been founded in 1974 by Joan Kennedy Smith, the last surviving sibling of John, Robert and Edward Kennedy.

Americans for the Arts, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, issued an alert Thursday calling for arts supporters to urge members of Congress to preserve the $40-million program, called Arts in Education.

Obama has proposed ending that program in his budget plan for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1; its elimination would be accelerated if Wednesday’s stopgap budget measure takes effect for the rest of 2010-11.

According to the Education Department’s website, “similar activities” to the ones funded by Arts in Education would receive federal support under a new, wider-ranging program the president has proposed for 2011-12, called Effective Teaching and Learning for a Well-rounded Education. It would offer $246 million in competitive grants for states and local school districts “to develop and expand innovative practices” in teaching a wide range of subjects, including arts, foreign languages, physical education, health education, environmental education, civics and government, history and geography, and economics and financial literacy.

Other federal cultural agencies face uncertainty in both the current-year and coming-year budget fights. The president has pegged the National Endowment for the Arts for a 13% cut in 2011-12, while a large group of congressional Republicans has targeted the NEA for elimination.


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-- Mike Boehm