Music Educators Visit Capitol Hill to Advocate School Music Programs

In June, from the U.S. Capitol to Arlington, Virginia, MENC’s Music Education Week demonstrated the power of teaching and making music.

During Music Education Week, MENC division and state leaders received advocacy briefings that included role-playing to prepare them for visits to Capitol Hill.

Prior to coming to Washington, DC, the leaders also took part in MENC-led webinars that laid out ways to sharpen the message they would deliver to legislators: “For today’s students to succeed tomorrow, they need a comprehensive education that includes music taught by exemplary music educators.”

The leaders set up meetings prior to the trip to Washington, DC, and were prepared to meet with either elected officials or staff members depending on the legislators’ schedule. In all, MENC leaders visited forty-three offices on Capitol Hill.

MENC’s legislative priorities include ensuring the Elementary and Secondary Education Act

  • Offers accountability for student achievement.
  • Is designed to increase student achievement in core academic areas.”
  • Is designed to make use of “scientifically based research”
  • Helps ensure student achievement is measured by “challenging state standards.”

Prepped and ready on the last day of the conference, MENC leaders headed to Capitol Hill with specific requests or “asks” for legislators.

MENC President-Elect Nancy Ditmer (left) and Ohio Music Education President James Dowdy were part of a group of Ohio MEA members who visited the offices of Representative Pat Tiberi and Senators Sherrod Brown and George Voinovich. They left information and followed up with emails and letters to the offices they visited.

Dowdy said all of the meetings went well, but Angela Mikolajewski, an aide in Voinovich’s office (pictured above), “seemed the most engaged. She asked us to stay in contact with their office, specifically to identify and recommend legislation for funding research that examines the relationship between music study and academic achievement. She also suggested we find recommendations that could be inserted as line items in the Appropriations Bill in support of music education.” He added that the MENC advocacy briefings left him “more prepared than last year” for Hill visits because “I began working on the visits back in March.” Christi Miller, president of the Oklahoma Music Educators Association, conducted Hill visits along with Joe Wilhelm, OMEA president-elect.  “We had a great time on the Hill for our visits,”  Miller said. “We started with Congressman Dan Boren. We spent about 30 minutes discussing our issues with him. He brought in his legislative assistant to take notes and was very receptive, sympathetic and concerned about the problems we face. “He told us he had learned to play the saxophone growing up. Maybe that’s what made the difference! We had a great time and felt like we had done a great deal of good for our state. If we don’t blow our horn, who will?” Amanda Lippert, president of the Hawaii Music Educators Association, met with several legislators and legislative assistants including:

  • Congressman Charles Djou and Austin Weatherford, Legislative Director
  •  Senator Daniel Akaka and Lopaka Baptiste, Legislative Assistant
  •  Anthony Ching, Legislative Assistant for Senator Daniel Inouye

Through her homework Lippert knew that Senator Akaka is a former choir director and music teacher. “Senator Akaka listened to our information including our core beliefs and our legislative priority, maintaining the art’s status as a core subject and to maintain high standards of assuring every student in Hawaii’s schools had access to music education provided by a certified music teacher,” she said. “When I asked him about the priorities, Baptiste said that those were already beliefs that were in line with the Senator’s priorities.

“Senator Akaka also discussed his career as a music teacher in public and private schools in Hawaii before becoming a principal and then working in the Superintendent’s office. He said he always encouraged parents to enroll their children in music classes due to the applicable knowledge transfer.” She also met with Inouye’slegislative assistant. “Ching is the Senator’s education policy guy. He listened politely as I listed our core beliefs. He told me that he knew the Senator would support Arts as a core subject in the reauthorization of ESEA.” Other MENC leaders reported similar success. Keith Hodgson, president-elect of the New Jersey Music Educators Association, said, “We were very happy and excited about all that we accomplished. We made stops at all 13 of the House of Representatives for the state of New Jersey. We had appointments for six of them and talked to the education staffer in each case.

“All seemed very receptive and supportive of the arts and education. At all of the offices we left the [MENC] information you supplied, and NJMEA President Bill McDevitt will be following up with a letter from NJMEA in the next few weeks.”

Although MENC leaders visited elected officials in Washington, DC, music education advocates everywhere can use the same techniques to raise awareness of the importance of school-based music and the other arts programs with leaders at the state and local level.

MENC offers a number of advocacy resources that will allow music educators to build bridges on the local level before music programs are threatened rather in the middle of a crisis.

Photos by Becky Spray -Roz Fehr, August 5, 2010 © MENC: The National Association for Music Education