Engagement in the arts proves to be a win-win for students

Whether you’re a parent, an educator, a business owner or a policy maker, each of us has a vested interest in the success of the students in our community. 
They represent the future of our state, and the impact of the education they receive today will have a positive ripple effect for generations.
And, what happens here locally impacts our community and our state. We are testaments to that. Both of us are proud graduates of Atlanta High School and were members of the “Big Bad Band from Rabbitland.” 
We were also privileged to take Mrs. Tomberlain’s speech class in high school. The experience performing in front of others – in class and on the field – helped shape us as individuals and as professionals, giving us confidence that has echoed throughout our lives. 
As we look to ensure future generations have opportunities like we had, there is one proven strategy that can help our students’ advance that may come as a surprise to you – increasing access to quality arts instruction throughout elementary, middle, and high school years. 
Based on a new investigation of statewide data, students in Texas public school districts that met the state accountability standard had more than two times as many arts courses to choose from, and earned up to 26 percent more arts credits than students in districts that “need improvement.” 
We now have easy access to this information because the Texas Cultural Trust recently created and published comprehensive statewide data on access to arts education at the district level. The data is publicly available at www.ArtCanTexas.org, and includes demographic statistics about each district in the state, allowing comparisons between them, and breaking down information among elementary, middle and high schools. 
For those who aren’t compelled by state standardized testing outcomes, consider that across all grade levels, greater arts course completion was associated with higher attendance rates, with the greatest impact at the high school level. 
According to the 2015 State of Art Report, Texas high school students who took three or more arts credits had an attendance rate that was 3.3 percentage points higher than their peers who were not engaged in the arts. 
That’s the equivalent of an entire extra week of class attendance, which, incidentally, equals more money in district coffers.  
Arts engagement also benefited students who were at risk of dropping out. These students were only half as likely to drop out if they completed at least one arts course credit in the 9th grade, as compared to their at-risk peers who were not enrolled in arts. Put simply, if we can capture a student’s imagination through the arts, whether it be through music, visual arts, dance, or theatre, they are more likely to attend and participate in school. The evidence couldn’t be clearer: 
Arts education for Texas students makes a difference — and it’s worth the investment. It’s good for our students, and for our economy. The arts generate $5.1 billion for our state’s economy and $320 million in state sales tax revenue annually. 
We call that a win-win.
So then, what can we do to ensure that more Texas students have access to quality arts education? 
A great first step is to get educated about arts opportunities within our local school districts. 
And the new Art Can website is a tremendous multimedia resource. The comprehensive data set includes information on arts credits, teachers, and courses for each school district in the state. 
Research shows 80 percent of Texas voters support increased funding for the arts in schools – the Art Can campaign provides a vehicle to turn that support into action. 
At the click of a button, you can reach out to the local school board and to our state legislators to express support for continued and expanded access to increased arts education. 
It is vitally important for our children’s success. And it will help all of us to build a stronger, more creative and prosperous Texas for years to come.

Jennifer Ransom Rice is the Executive Director of the Texas Cultural Trust and lives in Austin. Travis Ransom is a producer at Offenhauser & Co in Atlanta and serves as the President of the Texarkana Regional Arts and Humanities Council (TRAHC). www.trahc.org. 

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