Bill Cirone, Santa Barbara Superintendent of Schools

When school budgets get very tight, art and music education tend to be among the early casualties. That is exactly what has happened in recent years as school districts faced tough budget decisions, given draconian state budget cuts.

What is difficult to understand is a political arena and a social context that make such a choice necessary in the first place. It is shortsighted and counterproductive. The arts are not frills — they are essential elements of a complete education, and they often provide the very skills and motivation required for school and career success.

We’re fortunate that most schools in Santa Barbara County still provide music and arts education at the elementary level, plus theater and more advanced art at the secondary level, thanks to strong community support and districts that understand the value of a strong arts education program.

The reasons to include arts in a school curriculum are compelling.

The arts represent a form of thinking that is both sensory and intellectual, one that requires the use of imagination and judgment. What’s more, the arts provide unique ways of reaching students who may not learn as well through language and mathematics alone. In addition, studies point to higher levels of involvement and educational achievement among students taking advanced arts courses.

The arts are a form of expression and communication that is essential to the human experience, and they truly deserve a regular place in our classrooms.

Several years ago, when I chaired a state task force on the arts, our report called for a renaissance in K-12 arts education and made clear that every child in school should have equal access to high-quality education in the visual and performing arts. We emphasized the critical need to incorporate the arts into the core curriculum for all students; provide state standards that specify the competencies that students should demonstrate in each of the arts; provide career awareness and preparation experiences; and provide every student with an arts education program that includes access to the arts through technology.

Fortunately, most Americans agree. A Harris Poll found that 90 percent of respondents considered the arts vital to a well-rounded education for all students. Parents recognize that the arts provide a heightened appreciation of beauty and cross-cultural understandings, and that the arts enhance creativity, thinking skills, and discipline. Many young people find great joy in artistic expression. For some, it is an outlet and a source of inspiration. It helps them keep connected to their teachers and their schools.

The state Board of Education, in declaring March to be Arts Education Month, stated that arts education is an essential part of basic K-12 education for all students, and a way to develop the full potential of their minds. Kudos to the Orcutt Children’s Arts Foundation, the Santa Maria Arts Council, and the many community groups that hold public events in March to focus a spotlight on the importance of the arts in our schools and to raise funds to support those efforts. Nonprofit organizations like the Children’s Creative Project and Arts Outreach provide artists in residence that enrich school programs.

Arts education is essential. Without it, we will have drained from our schools the humanity, the creativity, the discipline, and the joy that arts can provide to all our children. We appreciate the strong partnerships throughout our county that keep the arts alive and vibrant in our area schools.