School arts programs face decline in funding, student participation, survey says

Almost all New Jersey students are being offered some arts education, but not all are taking advantage of it and spending has declined, a report released last week finds.

“There appears to be a narrowing of instruction,” said Bob Morrison, project director for the New Jersey Arts Education Census Project 2011. “The recession has played a role, but we don’t know yet if that is a temporary condition or a long-term negative trend we have to address.”

The 2011 Census is an update to the first survey done in 2006. The current survey results have been posted in an interactive database that allows the public to look up every participating school in the state. All but about 30 schools completed the 2011 survey, and based on the results, 97 percent of students have access to arts education, up from 94 percent in the 2006 survey.

Morrison said socioeconomic factors seem to play more of a role in the current survey, with more affluent districts offering more arts education, but excellent programs can be found in low-income districts. Locally, Absegami High School in Galloway Township, Egg Harbor Township High School, the Texas Avenue School in Atlantic City, Stow Creek Township School in Cumberland County and Stafford Township Intermediate School in Ocean County ranked in the top 10 percent of schools in the state.

Absegami dance teacher Lisa Zeuner knows very well the impact of the recession on arts education. Her program was cut, then saved in 2010 as the Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District grappled with a tight budget and crying students pleaded with the school board. On Friday, her Flowmotion class presented its 10th anniversary program at the school.

Among the performers was Kevin Yu, a senior who had no formal training until he joined the introductory dance course as a freshman. He will graduate in June and attend Rutgers University, majoring in dance.

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Arts to Grow (ATG) engages children in the artistic process by providing free, highly tailored and professionally taught arts education programs to youth in the New York metro area who have limited access to the arts. Arts to Grow collaborates closely with schools and community groups to match performing and visual arts programs and Teaching Artists with the specific needs of each group of children. ATG serves the community and society by helping children develop their full potential through the arts.

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