With the American economy in financial crisis, schools (both public and private) are struggling to stay afloat. School art programs and art teachers are hit especially hard by the economic backslide, with whole art departments being cut or consolidated, teachers being laid off and art supply budgets being cut drastically.
How a school art supply budget works – Though some schools give generously to their art programs, many of our nation’s art teachers find themselves in a worrisome state when it comes to classroom budgeting. Typically, an art teacher is given a yearly art budget for ordering class supplies. At some schools, a budget may be assigned a certain dollar amount per head – for instance, $3 per student; at other schools, a simple dollar amount may be given – $250 for the whole year. Sometimes this is supplemented by students paying required art fees; however, that is not always the case.
Imagine this scenario: An art teacher is given $300 a year for ordering art supplies. She teaches at an elementary school, where she instructs 300 students. That is $1.00 per student, to be used for 6 months worth of art classes. To put this in perspective, go to any big box store, where you will find that even a simple pack of watercolors will cost at least $2.00.
Why art budgets are necessary – Because art supplies are consumable – just like food and toilet paper – they get used up and need replaced each year. Besides consuming supplies during class, art teachers also have to keep a strict watch on art supplies being ‘borrowed’ by students and other teachers without being returned. Other pieces of classroom equipment that should last for years (such as scissors, yardsticks, tools, and more) are sometimes damaged by students acting irresponsibly, leading to further loss in the art room.
What teachers are doing to help the crisis – To make up for shortcomings, art teachers are known to be creative, thrifty and resourceful in acquiring classroom art supplies. Teachers that have had their budgets cut dramatically are writing grant applications, registering for contests, contacting companies for remnants, rummaging at thrift stores, and asking parents for donations of odds and ends. It is safe to say that most art teachers have dipped into their own pockets to fill a supply need as well.
Recently, due to these budget cuts (as well as state-funding losses and school levies not passing) a trend has begun for schools to ask parents to help supply a school’s basic educational materials, including art supplies. Sometimes, art supply lists are sent out to parents, informing them of what they will be required to purchase (on top of supplies needed for other classes). Illinois art teacher, Jenny, remarked, “I ask parents to send in supplies from a list at the beginning of the year. School supplies are very cheap this time of the year; so I don’t expect anyone to pay more than $5 for the supplies, but when you add it up, it saves hundreds on my budget. Some of the things I ask for are: pencils, erasers, Crayola markers, crayons, watercolor paints and Sharpies.”
Other times, students may be forced to buy a pre-made ‘art kit’ for the classroom. Texas middle-school art teacher, Laurie, stated, “I charge $15 for Art 1, and $20 for Art 2. Students are purchasing an art supply kit that they own and take home at the end of the year. Some students choose to donate theirs, which gets recycled the next year for students who can’t afford the fee… creating ownership of their supplies makes a big difference in how they treat the supplies, stay organized and clean up. Also, [there is] much less theft.”
And for other parents, the yearly ‘art fee’ is now becoming an unwelcome, permanent requirement. But this practice raises alarming questions:
What about parents who can’t afford yet another fee or strain on their income? – As parents, we know that we are pulled in every direction financially. Between paying for school clothes, school supplies, physicals, daily school lunches, sports fees, field trip fees, lab fees, and more – sending your child to school is more expensive than ever. Plus, if a parent has more than one child, the costs of sending your children back to school are frightening. Add to this the rent or mortgage, groceries, insurance, loans, and it starts to get overwhelming. What is a parent to do?
What happens if parents choose not (or cannot afford) to buy art supplies? – Josie, an art teacher from Ohio, comments, “In the public school district I teach in if a student does not pay their fees they are not allowed to attend school dances, reward activities, etc. and their report card is held. This does not apply to any students on public assistance–they are exempt from paying.”
Shouldn’t art teachers work within their means? – Josie also states, “My own children go to a … school where they do an awful lot of marker/crayon art work. I would gladly pay a supply fee so that they would have more access to paint and clay.” Because art is a hands-on subject, teachers can only develop lessons around the materials they have. Granted, many art teachers are creative and can stretch their materials far; however, students cannot learn about ceramics or painting if their school has no clay or paint. Keep in mind that art teachers must meet state standards, teaching certain topics and materials during the school year.
Shouldn’t public schools (who should be providing a ‘free’ education) provide their own basic supplies? – Lastly, Josie remarks, “Nothing in life is ‘free’, even education. We all do realize that [our] “free education” is paid by [our] tax dollars right?” So, when parents are forced to buy art supplies for their child’s school – are they paying ‘twice’ (through taxes, and through fees/supply purchases)? This notion makes it seem as if schools are swimming in money – which they are clearly not.
What other financial options are there for art teachers? – How else can art teachers make up the difference between what they have and what they need in their classroom art supply budgets? Besides grant-writing and begging for supply donations, it may require help from higher up – and not just the school or board, but changes in state funding for school programs.
So it comes down to, should parents be forced to buy art supplies for their child’s school? – Some may say, it comes down to priorities. If a parent will pay $100 for their child’s sneakers or cell phone bill every month… is it unthinkable to ask them to pay a once yearly fee of $10 for six months of art class? If a parent values their children’s educational experiences, simply, they will pay.
If not, then we may soon see the demise of school art classes as we used to know them.
What do you think? Should parents be forced to purchase art supplies for their child’s school?
www.teachers.net/mentors/art – Art Teacher Discussion Board