On Thursday afternoon, supporters of Rep. Merrifield’s bill mandating an arts requirement for high school graduation packed the Capitol’s Old Supreme Court Chambers. As was expected, the Rural Caucus, CASE, CASB and CEA testified against the bill. However, arguments in favor of local control of instruction paled as supporters of the bill testified about the importance of maintaining the arts in public education. For over two straight hours, members of the House Education Committee heard how the arts, as well as math and science, are essential to preparing students for 21st Century professional success and how creativity, communication and problem solving in are the key ingredients to individual success.
In the end, the bill passed with near unanimous support (Reps. Massey and Murray voted against it) and was referred House Committee of the Whole.
Although the Caucus did not support the bill (we have opposed every bill mandating any type of curriculum and/or graduation requirements), we worked closely with Rep. Merrifield as he was crafting the legislation to make the bill as innocuous as possible. For example, he agreed to remove a provision around using highly qualified teachers for the teaching of visual and performing arts and instead reworded the bill to state that classes shall be “delivered in such a way as to meet standards sand state regulations.” In addition, Rep. Merrifield agreed to take the phrase “each public school in the state shall require satisfactory completion of a visual arts or performing arts class as a condition of high school graduation” out of the bill and replace it with “demonstration of proficiency.”