Parents may sue over arts money - CEC22 veep intones threat of lawsuit looms over Department of Ed

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Parents have long complained about a lack of sufficient arts education in public schools and now they may finally do something about it.

In a surprising move, Michael Benjamin, first vice president of District 22’s Community Education Council (CEC), suggested that a lawsuit be filed against the city.

“They’re failing our children,” he said at a CEC meeting at P.S. 194, 3117 Avenue W.

Apparently, organizations supporting arts education in public schools have already had the same idea.

“It’s been floated,” said Kira Raffel, director of public engagement for the Center for Arts Education, which has awarded $40 million to support art programs.

The city Department of Education (DOE) has implemented its “ArtsCount” initiative, which is meant to ensure that schools provide sufficient arts programming.

In March, the department released a report offering details about art in schools. It noted that 92 percent of school buildings have arts rooms.

But parents say art and music have taken a backseat because of a focus on test prep and lack of funding for arts programs.

Earlier this month, the principal of a local school said he will completely eliminate arts education because of citywide budget cuts.

“I will not be able to fund any of my music, theater, visual arts programs because of these cuts,” said James Harrigan, principal of P.S. 229 at 1400 Benson Avenue.

Christopher Spinelli, president of District 22’s CEC, said he expects that to be the case for many public school principals who are now facing budget cuts of up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“If I were a principal, I would go leaner on my arts blueprint because I have to worry about my ELA and my math scores so I can get a good grade otherwise I’m going to be fired,” he said.

Updated 3:45 pm, October 19, 2011
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