Good news, bad news for arts and arts education funding

For students and teachers of art, music and physical education teaching positions in Duval County Public Schools, the best back-to-school gift was news of a change in funding.

The new superintendent, Dr. Diana Greene, advocated for a strategy which would balance the budget with a commitment to arts, music and physical education. The funding will come from a school board recommendation to delay the building of the reserve fund, currently at 4.75 percent, to 5 percent. The requirement is just 3 percent.

Students will have the same arts and gym classes offered as they had last year. Had a solution not been found, teachers in those disciplines would have been required to travel between two schools each week.

Shaun Bennett, music teacher at Ortega Elementary School, and Central Riverside Elementary School art teacher Terry Woodlief spoke before the school board May 1. “We have many arts advocates, teachers and parents to thank for speaking up. Unfortunately, to maintain the status quo, we must continue our advocacy and let our voices be heard in Tallahassee,” Woodlief said on social media.

On the other hand, although the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville advocated for an increase in funding for the grant pool from $2.4 million to $3.4 million in fiscal year 2018-2019, the bad news is that Mayor Lenny Curry’s proposed budget left that line item flat.

In a budget line item called PSG-Cultural Council, the nonprofit has received funding for arts and cultural organizations in Duval County since 1990. Over the past five years, according to the Cultural Council, its funding has remained flat since 2013-2014, when there were 21 organizations that received funding, and actually declined from its peak in 2002-2003, when it received a little over $4 million. For the upcoming fiscal year, there will be 27 eligible organizations to tap into $2.4 million, resulting in smaller grants.

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