Update, July 7: The SC Senate voted 33-3 to OVERRIDE Veto #21. $1 million more in recurring funds for arts education is returned to the state budget, the veto is defeated in both Chambers. Update, July 6: The SC House voted 102-16 to OVERRIDE Veto #21. The veto now heads to the SC Senate on Tuesday, July 7 where a 2/3 majority is required again to override Gov. Haley's veto. The Senate convenes at 10am. You can send a message to your senator on the statehouse website.
In 2014, three events set the stage for the South Carolina Arts Commission [SCAC] to begin re-evaluating its arts education initiatives and see where gaps may exist and how the agency could leverage its grant monies to support successful and innovative strategies / programs that ensure that the arts are available to all South Carolina students.
First, the Arts in Basic Curriculum Project [ABC Project], a partnership between the SCAC, Department of Education and housed at Winthrop University that works with schools to implement and strengthen arts programs, celebrated its 25th Anniversary.
Second, Molly Spearman, a former music teacher and steering committee member of the ABC project, was elected in November as the new State Superintendent of Education.
And, also in November of 2014, the State Supreme Court finally ruled, after over 20 years, in the Abbeville County School District v. the State case that South Carolina had not followed through on its constitutional requirement to deliver a “minimally adequate education” to students in the plaintiff’s districts (all rural school districts along what became known as the “Corridor of Shame”).
These events coincided with the formation of the 2014 Arts Education Task Force at the SC Arts Commission. Made of a diverse set of education policy makers, school administrators, educators, community organizations, after school leaders, universities, government, and many more, the Task Force met regularly for about six months to develop formal recommendations on how to ensure that the arts were available to all South Carolina students. The Task Force’s final recommendations were published in early 2015 (you can read them here). [Disclosure: I was a member of the 2014 Arts Education Task Force.]
To mirror these recommendations, the SCAC made its annual budget request to the state legislature for the FY16 budget year starting July 1, 2015, this time with an ask for a $1,000,000 increase in funding restricted for grants made for arts education programs around the state – both in schools and outside of schools (after-school and summer programs).
The $1,000,000 increase was made with the support of the Department of Education. Superintendent Molly Spearman even went as far as mentioning their support of this specific increase in funding during their own department’s budget hearing.
The House Ways & Means Committee, which writes the House version of the budget, put the $1,000,000 increase in their budget proposal from the very start, as did the Senate Finance Committee. And during the Conference Committee (where House and Senate leaders work out the differences between the two versions of the budget and come to a consensus), the $1,000,000 increase remained in place.
But on June 30, Gov. Nikki Haley wielded her veto pen 87 times to the state’s budget. Among those vetoes, Veto #21, the increase to arts education grants.
The viewpoint Gov. Haley takes in her Veto Message only gives a very small picture of how the SCAC uses its grant money currently and how it intends to use this increase in arts education grants. First and foremost, the SCAC has been granting directly to schools, and specifically to arts educators, for many years, providing much needed financial support to teachers who start out with the smallest of budgets from day one. Additionally, by placing this funding in the Department of Education’s budget, it ensures constant coordination between the two agencies that have been working together for over twenty-five years.
But just as importantly, this grant funding expands beyond the classroom, and for good reason. The Arts Education Task Force, which included Education Department staff, recommended that the SC Arts Commission look both inside and outside the classroom to ensure that every child has the opportunity to experience the arts. Students only spend 20% of their day inside of a classroom, and many spend 3 or more hours per weekday unsupervised. Those times after school and during the summer lend themselves to tremendous opportunities to supplement a child’s education with exposure to professional arts instruction, most especially in rural areas where school struggle to maintain adequate funding for arts programs. Additionally, programs administered by community nonprofit arts organizations often times give schools resources otherwise unavailable such as human capital, venues, technical equipment, funding, and time.
The $1,000,000 in additional grant funds, administered by the SC Arts Commission, also give the agency flexibility to support programs already successful in these areas, such as Engaging Creative Minds in Charleston and the ABC Project, and help develop new and innovative programs around the state and in communities of all sizes, and with unique partners. It allows the agency to work closely with both schools and community partners – not just limited to arts organizations – to strengthen their children’s education through the arts.
To see the irony of this veto though, one must travel back to early 2015. In her Executive Budget Proposal released in January of 2015, Gov. Haley singled out the SC Arts Commission by recommending a new proviso that would restrict $1,000,000 of agency granting funds to go towards arts education programs, allowing for a perfect union between Haley’s recommendations and the agency’s budget request:
28.5 Distribution to Subdivisions – Amend. This proviso defines the specific amounts that must be allocated to various categories of grants in the upcoming fiscal year. … The Executive Budget proposes to replace the existing text with language requiring that at least $1 million from this line be dedicated to school districts for arts programs.
But instead of approving the funding request and fulfilling her Budget Proposal recommendation, Haley has vetoed it. Approving this funding the way it stands would allow the SCAC to meet her proposal’s request, while keeping current grant levels intact for non-education programs (e.g. concerts, festivals, etc). It would also allow for direct input from the Department of Education to ensure that a strong inter-agency partnership remains, and ultimately would allow South Carolina to provide unique and powerful opportunities to students wherever they may live and regardless of the capability of their schools to offer an arts program.
In short, the $1,000,000 funding request for arts education grants through the South Carolina Arts Commission is yet another tool that the state can use to impact local communities in effective and exciting ways. Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto of this funding negates the agreement of both the House and Senate to include this funding, and it deflates the recommendations of the Arts Education Task Force by not giving the SCAC the financial footing it needs to implement them. But most importantly, it means that many of our students will go yet another year without the arts during or after their school day.
The Legislature will take up Gov. Haley’s vetoes starting on July 6. It takes a 2/3 majority by the House, and then the Senate to override any veto. I encourage you to contact your state legislators and ask them to vote to override Veto #21.