Music Education Advocacy News

by Mark Despotakis

Progressive Music actively works to advocate for music and arts education as part of a complete education for every child.  We plan to provide periodic advocacy updates so you can stay informed about public policy news relating to arts education.

At the state level, Progressive Music works with PMEA (The Pennsylvania Music Educators Association) and the Pennsylvania Arts Education Network to advocate for arts education friendly policies and education matters in the state budget.  Progressive Music’s Mark Despotakis serves at the chair of the PMEA council dedicated to advocacy and public policy and is a member is the Pennsylvania Arts Education Network Steering Committee.

Pennsylvania State Budget Update

The Pennsylvania General Assembly and Governor Tom Wolf did not meet their constitutionally mandated deadline of June 30th to pass a budget. Governor Tom Wolf’s budget proposal has been a topic of conversation for months.  In addition to other forms of spending pa_capitolincreases, Wolf proposed a $400 million increase to the basic education subsidy.  To pay for these increase, Wolf proposed an increase to the state wage tax, state sales tax as well as a severance tax on Marcellus shale drilling.  In addition, Wolf proposed taxing items that have not been previously subject to sales tax.  Essentially in exchange for the additional taxes, he proposed some property tax relief.  Not surprisingly, his proposal was met with opposition by the Republican controlled House and Senate.  

Late in June, the Pennsylvania General Assembly sent Governor Wolf a budget passed by both the House and Senate. Among the highlights of that budget proposal relating to education: 

  • Does not adopt a severance tax.
  • Relies on one-time budgetary items to secure funding:
  • $220 million from an unspecified liquor privatization proposal which has not been enacted by the General Assembly
  • $87 million in reduced state payments for school employees’ Social Security obligation and $25 million in underfunding of their retirement system, for a total of $112 million.
  • Invests fewer dollars in education that Wolf’s proposal: 
  • Allocates $120 million for K-12 schools ($100 million for basic education and $20 million for special education). Subtracting the $112 million from underfunding school retirement plans, the real increase in education funding shrinks to only $8 million.
  • Reduces funding for Pre-K Counts and Head Start programs compared to the Governor’s budget by $90 million.

Wolf has vetoed this budget proposal.  A quick search of Twitter using the #pabudget hashtag will key you in to the debate from both sides.  The political negotiations between the four legislative caucuses and the Governor’s office continues.  

A few proposals on the table have included a temporary budget (which would continue payments at 2014-2015 levels) and a few compromise budgets.  None of those ideas have seen the light of day. As of today, no budget has been passed.  While state employees are being paid, non-profits and school districts are not receiving payments.  That’s why it’s crucial for you to contact your legislators about the importance of restoring education funding.  There is still time to have an impact on the budget.

If you’re interested in more information, please take a look at the PowerPoint PDF of a presentation at the 2015 PMEA Summer Conference relating to the PMEA policy asks. 

In other news, the Basic Education Funding Commission released their plan for a funding formula for PA schools.  The reports findings have received bipartisan support.  The formula is based on the principles of accountability, transparency and predictability.  After a year of work, the  commission recommended Pennsylvania adopt a new funding formula based on the number of students in a school district, with additional money depending on the number of students living in poverty, still learning English or attending charter schools. A district’s ability to pay for its schools would be accounted for through measures of median household income and tax effort.  The commission also recommends the formula take into account a school district’s sparsity and size relative to the other 500 PA districts.

Another recommendation relates to the hold harmless provision.  This provision ensures no district receives less funding that it received in the previous year.  While this has been a hot topic issue relating to funding and with some calling for a repeal, the commission does not recommend eliminating this clause just yet.  The practice of hold harmless has been in place for over 20 years and making a drastic change could result in major reductions in the amounts some school districts would receive.  However, the commission does make recommendations on ways for new funding to not be subject to hold harmless.

A fair funding formula is key and from an early read, the commission’s finding go a long way in meeting what so many state education groups have asked for.  It’s no surprise though after US Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Pennsylvania does the worst job in the nation of fairly funding schools.

PMEA has developed a list of policy asks and you can view the 2015 PMEA Legislative Recommendations with talking points on the PMEA website.

As part of PMEA’s 2015 advocacy work, over 1,400 stories of the power and value of music education were collected. View the “How Has Music Education Impacted Your Life?” book and share with anyone you feel would benefit from this message.  The book was presented to every member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly on March 25, 2015.

Federal Education Policy Update

Progressive Music continues to work with NAMM, The National Association of Music Merchants and NAfME, The National Association for Music Education to ensure equal access to music and arts education at the federal level. We are a member of NAMM’s SupportMusic Coalition and NAfME’s Advocacy Leadership Force.

Washington, DC has been abuzz this spring and summer with news US_congress_1920x1440on the federal education policy front.  Specifically, both chambers of the United States Congress have taken up the task of reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, know most recently as No Child Left Behind.  The major piece of education policy has not be reauthorized since it expired in 2007.

No Child Left Behind leaves a legacy of high stakes testing in certain subject areas. The focus on certain subject areas has, in many cases, caused a reduction or far more limited access to other subjects areas – most notably music and the arts.

The United States House of Representatives passed their new version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act which calls for a greatly reduced role of the federal government in education policy.  Most notably is the absence of core academic subjects in the House passed bill.  With no core academic subjects listed, states and school districts would be left to make their own decisions on what subjects would be taught in their schools.  While this may seem like a good plan to those not wanting a large role of the federal government, it could be very damaging to music and arts programs that could easily no longer be offered across the country.

In contrast, the United States Senate passed their own version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  In many ways, the Senate passed bill limits the role of the federal government in education policy by removing some of the high stakes testing.  However, the Senate bill not only retains core academic subjects (including the arts)  that were previously enumerated in federal law, it adds music as a core academic subject! This is a major victory for the music education community.  By listing a subject as core, not only does that means states and school districts will have to offer those programs, it opens up music for more funding streams including clarifying Title I funding and ensures that students will not be pulled from music and arts classes for remedial education in other subject areas.

It should be noted that there is still a long way to go for music to be listed as a core academic subject in federal policy.  The Senate and the House will appoint conferees to come together and “merge” the Senate and House bill into a bill that will be presented to both chambers and, if passed, to the President to sign into law.  We will continue to monitor federal developments and update you as we know more.

If you are interested in further information or have any questions, please feel free to contact me at

About Progressive Music 
Progressive Music is a business with a mission to enrich the quality of life serving as a cultural and community center for all who make music for a living or personal enjoyment, regardless of age of ability. Progressive Music is the link between the public and suppliers of quality musical merchandise. The Progressive Music staff are professionals whose expertise assist, guide, and motivate people in the selection of music industry products as well present music education to the public through lessons, seminars and advocacy. Progressive Music is committed to their products with an experienced and knowledgeable service center.  To learn more, visit or visit Progressive Music on FacebookTwitter or YouTube.