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Can D.C. Schools Afford Art, Music, and PE?

For years, arts education advocates have been pushing for restoring programs in schools hampered by budgets and curriculum plans that tend to marginalize those subjects. So when D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee promised art, music, and PE teachers in every school, she won widespread praise from those advocates, as well as from teachers and parents.

But a study released by a consortium of D.C. organizations this week claims that the plan—which is based on a new funding formula—would create budget disparities between the city's disadvantaged schools and better-off ones, such as "teacher shortages, large class-sizes, and per-pupil funding gaps," according to this Washington Post story.

Last month, this D.C. teacher blogger talked about the challenges she expects to face as a result of the new funding formula. Yet she cheers the changes.

"But I am okay with these drawbacks if it means that my students will have art, music, and PE," she writes.

In this column over at the Arts Journal, Richard Kessler calls the unusual turn a kind of "bizarro world of education," referring to a comic-book planet ruled by a code opposite that of our own.

With urban school officials putting money behind subjects that have long been sidelined, and public education activists questioning the move, he writes, the tables seem to have turned.

"Us do opposite of all Earthly things! Us hate beauty!," the bizarro code states. "Us love ugliness! Is big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World!"

I don't think anyone would call Rhee's plan perfect, but other big, urban districts—including New York City and Los Angeles—have been working hard to sustain their arts programs. And now the growing public concern over childhood obesity is generating new attention to physical education.

I guess the question is how essential are these programs to providing comprehensive and equitable schooling to all students, and how far are districts willing to go to pay and support them.

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