The End of Elementary Band Programs?… Part 2: Something’s Gotta Give!

scissors-745924Hello, good morning, and welcome to the Saturday Morning News Post!

I know, I know! The SMNP is late again, but it’s end of semester here at McGill and I’ve got a cold, AND I had an “early” rehearsal this morning. Besides, you get what you pay for people! Anyways, if you want to bypass the inevitable weekly disappointment (and tire of bitching me out on my facebook page) you can always just sign up for the RSS feed in that top right corner. Et voila!

So,… last Saturday I raised the question “Why is the BC Government Cutting Elementary School Band Programs?”

As always I enjoyed reading your comments, a few of which encouraged me to do some actual “research”, which I did…ugh, and the resulting conclusion I came to isn’t that optimistic. It is indeed with a heavy hose I must say that funding for Education (along with funding for just about everything else) will be cut drastically over the next few years because,… emsomething has to be.

Here’s what I could piece together from perusing scouring the internet for information on the subject. So sit back and let some guy with very little understanding of politics/economics break it down for you! (Warning: Some of you may find this painfully obvious,… or quite possibly just dead wrong.)

In a nutshell: The global economic downturn happened, the Canadian government (both provincial and federal) chose not to make too many cuts during this period for fear that doing so would deepen the recession. Instead, despite lower tax revenue, the government spent it’s way through the recession and racked up a lot of debt in the process. Now, just like when an individual has debt to pay, the options are to increase revenue (raise your hand if you’d like higher taxes!) or cut back on costs. By far the biggest costs to government are education and health care, therefore these areas will see the most funding cut backs. The alternative to cutbacks or increased taxes is to saddle tax payers with this debt for a looong time to come; again, just like with indivdiuals, carrying debt for a long time is undesirable.

So the BC Government didn’t actually cut band programs per se, they cut funding for education, and I’m sure they’ll cut funding to healthcare, forestry, and everything else. It’s the school board that had to choose what to cut, and band looks like it will go along with some ESL and special needs jobs, and quite possibly some school closures in areas with low attendance numbers.

Yes, I could raise the question “Why cut arts education? Why not cut some math classes, or social studies?” But really, parents would never support that. Plus, to be honest, I have no idea what is in the best interests of the students. I’m going to have to trust the school board on that one, although,… the school board’s actions are in some ways dictated by what the parents will support. No?

So here I am, having done some research I’ve found the passionate wind of ignorance to be taken out of my proverbial sails, hence I did not write a damning letter to my MLA. Governments never want to cut anything because doing so is unpopular with voters and therefore jeopardizes reelection, but sometimes fiscal responsibility requires such cutbacks. So what do I write to them?… “Dear MLA, I understand your party had to make cuts but please increase education funding at your earliest convenience. Love, JD”… ?

I don’t know readers. I’m not saying I’m happy with what’s happening, but I do understand the situation a bit better. Now I’m left wondering “Will the government bring back the music program in 10 years? Will parents bother to get their kids playing music regardless?” Most of all “How do artists make a case for cutting back on something in schools besides arts education when its benefits are so much more difficult to quantify then a subject like English or Math?”

As always, your comments are appreciated. Oh, and links to news articles are always appreciated, whether you’ve “heard” that the BC Government is doing great things for the arts community OR you “know” they are destroying the arts, just throw up a link because I’d like to read more. (Especially if you’re going to bring up the Olympics!)

And with that I bid you adieu. Next week I may try to talk about something else. I can barely make my life as a trail-blazing jazz clarinetist seem exciting, I haven’t got a hope with politics!

Thanks for reading and have a great week everyone! jd

(above painting by Chris Young)

  • Guy

    The Courier landed on our porch the other day and on my way from the porch to the recycling box, I happened to see the headline: “School board considers cutting band and strings”. Key word: considers. That’s the extent of my knowledge. Here’s the link to the story:

  • John Doheny


    There a slight flaw in your logic here, probably a result of your research taking in an unintended dose of neo-conservative conventional wisdom, which holds that deficits are by nature heinous things (well, except when liberals run surpluses ala Bill Clinton, then it’s good to have deficits, at least according to Alan Greenspan) and that taxes must always be cut, never raised, particularly on the wealthy, since this will “discourage entrepreneurialism.” It’s classic Reaganomics, AKA “voodoo economics,” mixed in with the trickle-down theory of economics which holds that the rich at the banquet table gorging on prosperity will eventually become sated and toss a few half-eaten turkey legs over their shoulders, which us peons can devour. The trouble with this idea is that, as history shows us over and over, money trickles up.

    WWII created a deficit which dwarfs anything we’re dealing with now, and yet governments in the victorious west did not respond by making draconian cuts, in fact they did just the opposite. They invested in a vast array of the same ‘entitlement’ programs’ now under attack (the GI Bill, Medicare, Medicaide, various types of universal health insurance in Britain and Canada etc.), programs which were in no small part responsible for the largest injection of wealth into the newly created middle class ever seen. In the Marshall Plan they also recognized the imperitive to rebuild war torn markets in Europe and invested heavily there. The fact is, we essentially spent our way out of the post-war recession with stimulous spending, a much bolder and bigger version of what the Obama Administration is doing now.

    I’ve always been a bit puzzled as to why the right is so determined to neuter any attempt at stimulus (or regulation of financial markets) since a real, depression-style meltdown would likely push the United States towards outright facism. Then someone remarked the other day that economic meltdown was very useful to Hitler in his bid for power.

    Oh, and as to your question “will the government bring back music education programs in 10 years,” I’m betting on no. There is simply no precedent for this. I’m 56 years old and I have never seen this happen on a broad scale; programs are only cut, never restored.

  • Janet

    I asked around and here’s what I got.

    Enrollment in Vancouver schools is down, way down. In the last 15 years property values have become so much higher in Vancouver that young families are no longer buying there – they’re buying further East in the city and in the suburbs, and having kids there. So districts like Surrey and PoCo and environs are burgeoning and opening schools, but Vancouver proper, especially on the West side, has fewer elementary school aged children and is facing a massive shortfall of students (the number I heard was 50,000 fewer over the last 15 years, but that could be off. Still, it’s massive, on the order of 8-12 students under capacity per class).

    In any case, note that the province does not control local schools’ budgets and allocations of program funding – that’s the purview of the city school board. Also, under the BC Liberals, the per-elementary-student spending has not gone down – it is actually at an all-time high. But it’s allocated on a per-student basis, not per-school, to maintain responsiveness to local needs. It’s up to the local school boards to decide how to allocate this funding.

    What do you do when you’re a local school board, enrollment is down and your district-wide funding comes at a per-student rate? You can either consolidate smaller schools and rework catchment areas etc so you have a sustainable number of students in a class, or you can protect existing schools and teacher’s jobs by keeping those schools open with under 20 students in a class but with a lower level of funding per school (different than per capita). The choice is a tough one and often comes down to political commitments, among other factors.

    Many school districts in the province are choosing to close down schools when enrollment is down (i.e. northern communities in BC, where mills have closed down and people are moving out). Note that at the same time, because of the per-capita funding situation, communities that are growing can and are opening up schools like crazy in the districts where there are more families moving in. In the case of Vancouver, the VSB has chosen to keep schools open, partly because they can then protect teachers’ and employees’ jobs and maintain facilties. This protects jobs and existing schools, but when you make a choice in a budget you have to chose one thing over another, so it comes at the price of band programs, sports teams and librarians. But that’s the VSB’s choice, because they control the funds, and they are a locally-elected body whose responsibility is to control those funds and make that choice. That’s the job we elected them to do. It’s also not surprising that they made that choice given their politics, which on the VSB tends more to the left and in favour of things like union jobs. Of course, like any democratically-elected body, if you wanted them to make a different choice you should have voted in a different slate of candidates.

    It would be okay to say, this is the situation and this is the choice we’re making, which is perfectly fine and what they were elected to do, but it’s incorrect and dirty politics to blame this on the province to hedge a politically difficult decision. I know the BCTF has no love for the Liberals, but legally, it’s none of the province’s business what programs the VSB funds or doesn’t fund, and in terms of what they control on the provincial level they’ve increased funding to elementary and secondary education. You can certainly argue that there should be only 16 students per class instead of 25 or 30 and that schools should be funded at that level plus extracurriculars, but the public system can’t afford that option as yet. And we are also on a provincial level funding lots of things that benefit children like family services, community centers, community-based health care, parks, etc.

    Anyway, that’s what I found out through contacts in Van who are close to this situation. Numbers and minutes and so on should be available online in various places but you’ll have to wade through them yourself. I don’t know a link to this because it isn’t what the press is reporting (it makes better headlines to say Campbell Hates Children and Puppies than to say VSB Makes Difficult And Nuanced Decision That They Were Elected To Make). But then again, how often do you ever read anything in the press that you know something about and feel like they get any of the nuance right? 😉