On June 19, music educators gathered in the Rules Committee Hearing Room of the Dirksen Senate Building for the 2019 National Association for Music Education (NAfME) Hill Day. More than 320 state music education association (MEA) leaders, NAfME Collegiate members, and members of the Music Education Policy Roundtable advocated the importance of music education to senators and representatives in Congress. This annual event provides an opportunity for stakeholders in the music teaching profession to rally on Capitol Hill, illuminating their cause on the frontstage of federal policymaking.
To begin the day, NAfME President Dr. Kathleen D. Sanz presented Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) with the Music Education Champion Award for his introduction of the Guarantee Access to Arts and Music Education (GAAME Act). A former elementary music educator and trumpet player, Senator Tester’s remarks and jovial presence resonated with those in the room.
The story the Senator imparted echoed those who spoke before him. “[F]or the people of color who are in here, we can be that representation for our students, and we need to be,” said NAfME Collegiate member Shefali Shah, who recently graduated from Frostburg State University and will be teaching in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. “Because when they see us up there, they can say: ‘I can do that too.’”
“All of our kids deserve music,” added Jazzmone Sutton, President of the North Carolina Music Educators Association, reflecting on her experience in the classroom. “Whether they can play the part or whether they can’t play the part, it does not matter. All of our kids deserve a space in music, period.”
Advocacy and Legislative Agenda
Attendees represented all fifty states, as well as Washington (D.C.) Music Education Association and Western Music Education Association (India). While collegiates have long been integral to the success of this event, this year 140 future music educators from 37 states walked the halls of Congress—an all-time high. Prior to Hill Day, these students participated in an advocacy and leadership training summit, where leaders in the field shared proven practices for local, state, and national level advocacy efforts.
Their advocacy was a joint effort with representatives from seven Music Education Policy Roundtable organizations:
Music educators shared their personal experiences with legislators and staffers, narrating the path that led them from the classroom to the nation’s capital. These stories opened conversation for the NAfME legislative agenda:
- Fully fund Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) FY2020 Appropriations:
- Title IV, Part A (Supporting Access to Music Education as Part of a Well-Rounded Education): $1.6 billion
- Title I, Part A (Supporting Access to Music Education for the Most Disadvantaged Students): $15.46 billion
- Title I, Part A, Title II Part A, and Title IV, Part A & F (Supporting Professional Development for Music Educators): $ 2.29 billion for Title II-A and $40 million for Title IV-F
- Increase publicity and cosponsors for the GAAME Act, which formally recognizes music’s eligibility for Title I-A dollars in order to improve student accessibility to music education
- Reauthorize the Higher Education Act of 1965 to:
- Establish teacher loan forgiveness for well-rounded subjects
- Incentivize innovative teacher preparation initiatives and development to diversify both the music education profession and curriculum
Impact of Another Successful Hill Day
The 2019 Hill Day Rally was shared via Facebook Live, with more than 4,000 people viewing it online. NAfME orchestrated a massive social media presence, reaching viewers using the hashtag #NAfMEHD19. This hashtag was used for posts on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
The message of Hill Day was further amplified by NAfME members in their home states who sent electronic mail to their members of Congress. Using a tool on the NAfME website, 1,828 people sent more than 5,600 emails requesting that Congress fully fund Title IV-A of ESSA.
Hill Day attendees held more than 200 meetings with congressional offices and provided the following survey feedback:
- Over 60% of offices said they supported increased federal funding for education;
- Nearly three-fourths of all offices supported Title IV-A funding;
- And nearly two-thirds of offices expressed interest in cosponsoring the GAAME Act with two offices (Rep. Bobby Rush of IL and Rep. G.K. Butterfield of NC) cosponsoring immediately after Hill Day.
Hill Day 2019 officially closed with a humorous, heartfelt commemoration. From the Melodica Men’s animated rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” to the recognition of esteemed collegiate members, attendees were able to reconvene that evening and find respite in their noteworthy accomplishments.
The Florida Music Education Association (FMEA) was recognized for their outstanding advocacy in music education, winning this year’s Excellence in Advocacy Award. FMEA worked tirelessly to connect with other education stakeholders, building long-term relationships with state superintendents, school administrators, and school boards. They helped prevent establishing financial literacy as a required class, which would have negatively impacted music electives.
Five university chapters were recognized by NAfME for areas of excellence. Additionally, five individuals were recognized as the 2019 Collegiate Professional Achievement Award recipients, one of whom received the Shannon Kelly Kane Scholarship. South Carolina music educator Ray Doughty was honored as a Lowell Mason Fellow, a distinction that recognizes individuals for their commitment and demonstrated leadership within the music education field. Finally, the Country Music Association (CMA) Foundation was pleased to announce five grant winners who proposed exemplary initiatives to improve their state advocacy.
The reception was not only a splendid coda to the day, but also a celebration of the long-term pursuits carried out by advocates seeking to expand music opportunities for all. While Hill Day is merely one piece of the broader work, attendees will continue the movement in their respective states.
NAfME is indebted to the sustained efforts of its members. Whether on Capitol Hill or in the classroom itself, NAfME members across the country will profoundly inspire the national dialogue surrounding the importance of music education and its contribution to students’ lives.
Kristiana Labuga, Public Policy Intern, July 24, 2019. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)