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Show Me the Money


With the heavy emphasis of school accountability with the Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP), some educators fear that hard-earned arts funding will again be diverted toward the testable subjects of reading, writing, math and science.

Carol Shaw, the head of the arts department at District 11's Wasson High School, says she has already seen a change in emphasis.

"You'd think [CSAP testing] would have nothing to do with the arts, but where the money goes can be determined by the big trends in education," she said. "And the CSAP is the trend right now."

Criss Louick, a longtime homebound tutor for Colorado Springs' largest school district and the author of The Perfect Test, is also critical of the potential effects of the CSAP on student education, especially those areas, like art, that fall outside the CSAP's testing domain.

"When you look at other states that are further along than we are with these kinds of tests [including Texas, Massachusetts and North Carolina], you see that rather than there being some end to this, it's an insidious thing that consumes more and more time," Louick said. "If it isn't related to test scores, it doesn't have priority now.

District 11 School Board member Lyman Kaiser says that the board strongly advocates educating the whole child, including the arts, but that improving test scores has taken precedence in the past three years.

"We haven't been able to expand on any [arts program] in the last three years," he said. "I won't say we deliberately didn't expand because of CSAP, but certainly we are putting a strong emphasis on standards-based education and reading, writing and math as a result of the state's current focus.

Kaiser said though he agrees with the emphasis on the basics, "at the same time, though, we're trying to maintain the idea that arts education and fine arts are an important part of a child's life and a child's curriculum."

In 2000, Colorado voters approved Amendment 23, which mandates school funding be increased every year at the rate of inflation plus one percent and that tax revenue be distributed equally among schools on a per-pupil basis.

Educators say the law makes it easier for Colorado schools to sustain core academic courses without cutting funding for the arts during tough economic times.

But some fret that other trends will unbalance arts funding, and point out that schools with higher CSAP scores usually don't have a lack of resources.

"It's the places with low [test scores] that will have ongoing problems," Louick said.

One major factor that may exacerbate problems for schools with low test scores, said Louick, is school choice and the fact that state funding is allocated on a per-student basis.

"School choice means better students go to better schools and, thus, funding per student decreases at lower performing schools."

-- Noel Black

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