Post-Election 2012: Taking America’s Political Pulse

Editor’ Note: Christopher Woodside takes a look back at the 2012 election season and what may lie ahead.  He is assistant executive director, Center for Advocacy & Public Affairs at the National Association for Music Education (NAfME) 

 At last, election season has come and gone.  For a political junkie like myself, a tear or two is shed, but the good news for those of us that eat, sleep and breathe this stuff, is that it will all begin anew before we know it (though, the rest of the country is probably grateful for the break)!  Indeed, after a whirlwind sea of relentless television and radio ads, debates, and yard signs as far as the eye could see, America has finally chosen its governance for the next two and four years, respectively.  So what does it all mean for the music education faithful?

Prior to the start of  campaigning, NAfME took a long and hard look at all of the various circumstances that could emerge in a post-election landscape.  We considered what our policy needs at the federal, state,and local levels might be under a Romney administration with a Republican-led Congress, with a Democratic-led Congress, and with President Obama’s reelection (along with the possible flavors of Congress in that scenario, as well).

It was easy to “nail bite” over the potential downsides to any number of the aforementioned theoretical outcomes, both “blue” and “red,” but for the sake of playing “what could have been…,” let’s delve a bit deeper into what Republican control might actually have looked like:  In short, had Governor Romney been elected, we would likely have been dealing with an even more greatly reduced federal footprint for arts education.  The tremendous authority that has been granted to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s Department of Education under President Obama would have almost certainly been stripped in whole (Duncan obviously, would have been out the door), and in all likelihood, Congress would have further cut funding for federal education programs, teacher training and Title I.

There is no guarantee, of course, that any of the above-listed circumstances would have played out just so (or that they wouldn’t have come to fruition, regardless, under President’s Obama’s leadership).  It is a safe assumption to make, however, that a Republican landslide would have made music education advocacy an almost entirely local endeavor, practically overnight.

In the end, the President won reelection, pledging to fix the economy and to create more jobs, the Democrats hung on to the Senate (actually picking up a couple of seats), and are now once more asserting that Americans believe in their government and its role in their lives. When all is said and done, the Republicans maintained a hold on the House, for which they will argue that voters have entrusted them with guarding the purse strings as the country continues to plow ahead toward a fiscal cliff. 

There is likely some truth to all of this.  From a music advocate’s perspective, however, we want to know what, exactly, it means for our issue on the national stage and whom we can come to count on for support in the years ahead.

Navigating Music Education Advocacy During the Next Congress

To be clear, under a second Obama administration, the policy landscape will remain fraught with perilous circumstances, and the bread and butter advocacy that must be conducted on behalf of music education will still need to occur primarily at the ground level.  The reality of the matter, however, is  that with a Democratic president returning to the White House, and with Senator Harkin (D-IA) continuing at the helm of the education committee in the Senate, music education’s “voice” on the Hill will be more important now than ever before. The Republican considered most likely to take over the minority side of the Senate’s education committee leadership, is Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who has been a good friend to the arts over the years).

New appropriations and education committee members in both chambers and on both sides of the aisle will be looking to adopt fresh cause,s and returning members may be willing to consider taking a second flyer on our issue.  In many states across the country, including Maryland, Wisconsin, Virginia, and Ohio, voters have seemingly endorsed the role of the federal government in helping to buttress state-level policymaking efforts, and, as such, the Senate, in particular, is likely to strongly consider making another run at reauthorizing the Elementary & Secondary Education Act, within the next year or two. 

It will be interesting to see if Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) continues to play a key role in the next reauthorization effort.  Casey sponsored the “well-rounded” subject funding amendment that would have maintained Arts in Education in the Senate’s last marked-up education bill.

The House, for its part, will almost certainly continue to pose a formidable challenge to the Democrats’ ability to implement their vision of education reform.  During his first four years, President Obama and Senator Harkin were met with fierce opposition to their goal of comprehensive reauthorization from the Republican House education leadership (mainly Rep. John Kline [R-MN-02]), which would have included lumping together all non-Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) subjects into one giant funding pot. Senator Casey’s “well-rounded” proposal focuses more attention on disadvantaged communities and disabled students, amongst other priorities.

House Republicans are likely once again to push for a more piecemeal approach to education reform, with a stronger focus on increased local control and even more significant reductions to federal funding.  Arts Caucus Chair Louise Slaughter (D-NY-28) and arts supporter Aaron Schock (R-IL-18) will be “ones to watch” on either side of the aisle in the new Congress.  In short, the House could quite possibly play the role of “spoiler” to ESEA reauthorization.

If Congress should ultimately refuse to take action on education reform, Secretary Duncan has already shown a willingness to go it alone.  Post-election, the Secretary has gone on record as stating that he believes, via their ballot casting, Americans have offered up an endorsement of the President’s ideas for the future of education in this country, and of his Department’s manner of conducting business.  Duncan’s Department of Education has, indeed, gone far beyond the administrative territory charted by previous administrations, even occasionally being accused by some of legislating inappropriately, with its proposal and implementation of No Child Left Behind waivers, and its preference for competitive grants,  such as the Race to the Top initiative.

State and Local Level Politics Also Will Play a Role

As the country continues to struggle to find its way out of the recent recession, regardless of the dialogue taking place at the federal level, state,and local level politics will remain the most important battlefields in the ongoing fight to protect school music.  Nationally, governorships remain starkly divided (though with a Republican advantage), and the 2012 cycle saw the addition of several new Democratic and Republican governors that will, likely, further complicate the political landscape and bring about even more challenges (Steve Bullock [D-MT], Maggie Hassan [D-NH), Jay Inslee [D-WA], Mike Pence [R-IN], and Pat McCrory [R-NC], were all victorious in this last election).

While state revenues have begun to climb again, ever so slightly, pre-recession levels still seem like a pipe dream at this point, and most state arts agencies continue to see dramatic funding cutbacks.  In short, statewide fiscal health will almost certainly remain the number one policy priority of virtually all governors and state-elected leaders.  That dialogue, specifically, is where music advocates must learn to “live” for the immediate future, in order to have an impact in their own backyards.

On perhaps a more hopeful note, a couple of key state and local-level ballot initiatives with positive implications for music advocates passed this election cycle.  In California, Prop 30 (a tax propositinon), was successful.  Prop 30 aims to produce greater revenues for the funding of statewide education initiatives via a variety of new tax measures.  In Portland, Oregon, a citywide arts tax was approved, helping to restore and provide for arts education in that city, via a tax of $35 on all income-earners above the poverty line. 

Further, in 2013, policy experts and teachers alike will be closely monitoring the progress of new policy initiatives in the Chicago Public Schools and in the Los Angeles Unified School District, both of which aim to add arts education as part of the core curriculum in those two massive jurisdictions.  In Chicago, this latest proposal has the full backing of Mayor Rham Emanuel, and in L.A., it appears that the school board is finally taking an aggressive stance against the decimation of the arts in California.

Strength in Numbers: NAfME Advocates with its Music Education Partners

In order to ensure success in our continuing policy efforts on behalf of music education, NAfME plans to work closely in the new year with our various partners across collaborative endeavors such as The Music Education Policy Roundtable; Arts Education Working Group, Career, College; and Citizenship Readiness Coalition (CCCR); and Committee for Education Funding (CEF).  As always, we will be engaging with both parties in Congress. 

Ours is a non-partisan issue and always will be.  Most importantly, we are so grateful for the incredibly hard advocacy work that our state MEA officers and members on the ground have been and will continue to be conducting on behalf of music in their home states.  Moving forward, we must continue to remain in close touch in order to ensure consistency in our messaging and purposes.  I am confident that in doing so, we will make steady progress.

 Follow the latest in music education policy and connect with other music education advocates on the Music Education Groundswell.

Christopher Woodside, November 29, 2012. © National Association for Music Education (