Children in a performance

New Education Bill Supports Arts Education

Advocacy Update

Members of a joint conference committee released on Nov. 30 the final text of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). ESEA is the federal education law that funds primary and secondary education and aims to provide all students with fair and equal opportunities to achieve a high quality education. The current version of this law is known as “No Child Left Behind.” Committee members worked together last month to combine the House and Senate versions of the bill passed earlier this summer.

The bill contains several provisions for arts education related to the arts education priorities for which PAA has been advocating:


Priority: Retain the definition of core academic subjects which includes the arts and strengthen equitable access to arts learning.

  • The term “core academic subjects has been replaced with the term “well-rounded education.” The definition includes the arts:

‘WELL-ROUNDED EDUCATION.—The term ‘well-rounded education’ means courses, activities, and programming in subjects such as English, reading or language arts, writing, science, technology, engineering, mathematics, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, geography, computer science, music, career and technical education, health, physical education, and any other subject, as determined by the State or local educational agency, with the purpose of providing all students access to an enriched curriculum and educational experience (Sec. 8002, pg. 807).

  • The phrase “well-rounded” education appears in provisions related to professional development, afterschool and expanded learning time, English language learners, literacy, and more.  Well-rounded subjects are specified as eligible uses of Title I funds, the largest pool of federal resources dedicated to ensuring equitable access to a complete education for all students. Advocates can encourage local and state education policymakers to use their federal funds in these areas to support arts education.
  • The bill authorizes “Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants,” (Sec. 4101, Pg. 450). This grant program aims to improve student achievement by increasing the capacity of “States, local educational agencies, schools, and local communities” to:
    • Provide access to a well-rounded education for all students
    • Improve school conditions for student learning
    • Increase the use of technology and improve students’ digital literacy

Authorized use of funding includes activities and programs in music and the arts (pg. 459); using the arts to promote constructive student engagement, problem solving, and conflict resolution (pg. 474), and integrating the arts into STEM subjects (pg. 476) and multiple disciplines (477). This program encourages partnerships between schools and community-based organizations.


Priority: Retain the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program which supports afterschool, out-of-school programs and expanded learning time in schools.

  • The bill authorizes this program which “offer[s] students a broad array of additional services, programs, and activities” including “arts and music” which “complement the regular academic program of participating students” (Sec. 4201, Pg. 489-490). Afterschool, out of school, and summer learning programs are key areas in which arts organizations partner with schools to support student learning in the arts.


Priority: Maintain arts education grant support at the U.S. Department of Education.

  • In the bill, programs supported by the current Arts in Education program at the U.S. Dept. of Education are retained as the “Assistance for Arts Education Program,” (Sec. 4642, Pg. 626).  This is a huge win for the arts: not many other subject area programs were retained in this new bill.
  • The Assistance for Arts Education program will award competitive federal grants, contracts, or cooperative agreements for the purposes of “promot[ing] arts education for students, including disadvantaged students and students who are children with disabilities” through:
    • professional development for arts educators, teachers, and principals;
    • development and dissemination of instructional materials and arts-based educational programming;
    • supporting partnerships among schools, local educational agencies, communities, or centers for the arts.


Additionally, the bill makes accountability requirements more flexible. While tests in reading and math are still required under the new bill, states are given flexibility in incorporating other measures of student success – such as student engagement – into their accountability plans and are encouraged to use portfolio and project based assessment when measuring student learning, which may open the door to increased support of arts education strategies.


The overall approach of the bill shrinks the federal role in education reform and hands more decision-making to the states; this means that arts education advocacy at the state and local level will be more important than ever. The House may vote to pass this bill as early as December 2 and a Senate vote may follow soon. After final votes in both chambers and a signature by the President, the Every Student Succeeds Act will become law. Thank you for speaking up for the arts and joining PAA’s advocacy efforts. Your voice matters! PAA will keep you updated on the progress of the legislation.