President Donald Trump’s administration announced earlier this month that one of the administration’s first intended budget cuts will slash funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. These two endowments constitute just 0.006 percent of the 2016 federal budget. Despite being such a minimal portion of overall national spending, these two foundations have substantively advanced the role of art in society. Projects including summer programs for teachers, student focus on topics such as Muslim American identities and existentialism, various research programs and initiatives to preserve American history have all been funded by the NEH and NEA. But above all, eliminating these grants is detrimental to the education system and sends the false message that that it is not worth it to invest in the arts and humanities.
This issue hits close to home for the University. In May 2015, USC’s Game Innovation Lab received two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. One of the grants, awarded to Professor Tracy Fullerton, funded the development of Walden, A Game, an interactive look at Thoreau’s novel. Without funding like this, many universities would be unable to fund research and creative projects. Though higher education funding has more elasticity and sources than lower education, universities will still be negatively impacted by the sudden nature of this budget cut. The ethos of higher education is focused on research and innovation and is deeply contradicted by cutting these endowments. The effect on taxpayers is miniscule, while the positive community impact of research and projects pertaining to arts and humanities in education is immense.
On top of hurting higher education and university research and funding, these budget cuts will also be deeply detrimental to public lower education. Eliminating the resources that these funds provide will have serious consequences on our education system. A 2011 study by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities showed that “students who were involved in arts education for at least nine hours a week were four times more likely to have high academic achievement and three times more likely to have high attendance.” Another study conducted by the National Educational Longitudinal Survey stated that “low-income students involved in band and orchestra outscored others on the NELS math assessment; low-income students involved in drama showed greater reading proficiency and more positive self-concept compared to those with little or no involvement.”
Additionally, a cut in this endowment could disproportionately affect low-income and minority households. According to another study done in 2008, black and Hispanic students are already two times less likely to have access to art programs in their school districts in comparison to their white peers. Research by the NEA shows that 71 percent of students of low socioeconomic status who participated in the arts, compared to 48 percent of low-income students without access to publicly funded arts programs, attended college after high school.
Like many of the recent proposed tax cuts on education, defunding the NEH and NEA will have little to no tangible effects on wealthy, majority white neighborhoods, as the arts can be privately funded. However, these endowment programs are essential to low-income and minority students for funding drama, music and visual arts programs and developing crucial humanities curricula. Defunding these endowments will only serve to exacerbate the divide between wealthy and poor students. Encouraging these students to develop their passions and receive a well-rounded education is a first and essential step in bridging the socio-economic gap between students.
The detriments of defunding the NEA and NEH supremely outweigh any potential benefit of saving 0.006 percent of the federal budget. Before these invaluable resources are callously cut, the administration must seriously consider the effects that this will have on education systems.
This is not a political issue, but rather, one of the enrichment of intellectual diversity and affording the arts and humanities the respect and funding these fields deserve. Defunding the NEH and NEA grants would reach beyond politics to deny educational balance, diversity and a wide range of opportunities from the students and young people who need these most.