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Rural Music Programs Turn to Grants, Fundraisers to Survive

Amidst tight budgets, music programs at rural schools in South Dakota have become largely dependent on outside grants and fundraisers, according to a recent article by the Argus Leader.

Music teachers across South Dakota say that finding affordable instruments is a challenge, and the funds needed to buy, maintain, and repair equipment have been essentially nonexistent for years. One district has relied on a frozen food fundraiser to raise the money needed to keep the program running this year, while another district has turned to grants to resurrect a music program that was dormant for years.

Nearly 79 percent of school districts in South Dakota are small and rural, and 41 percent of students in the state attend rural schools, according to a report by the Rural School and Community Trust. Districts in the state are significantly more dependent on local dollars than state dollars, and teacher salaries are among the lowest in the country.

Music and arts classes have been among the first classes to be cut in some rural schools reeling from budget cuts. Schools in Alaska and Minnesota have utilized technology to provide virtual music classes to students who otherwise would not have access to those classes. Other rural schools have started to share curriculum and teachers across specialized classes, like music and foreign language.

Research shows that practicing and performing music can help students' cognitive development, especially at an early age. Another study found that students who received music training for two years showed improvement in their auditory processing ability, which has been linked with better spelling and reading skills. 

Educators also pitch the broader benefits they see in music and arts education.

"We have the discipline, we teach responsibility," one high school band director told the Argus Leader. "And we also teach them, which is the music part, expression and feeling, and that's what everybody needs."

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