Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Contact your legislators about including the arts in Hathaway options

A bill modifying the requirements for Wyoming's Hathaway Scholarship was recently introduced by Wyoming Rep. Elaine Harvey from Lovell. The bill would allow a student to substitute two years of music education in grades 9-12 instead of foreign languages. The bill does specify "music" and not the larger category of "fine and performing arts."

The bill has been assigned the number HB0218 and is entitled Hathaway Success Curriculum. The bill (as of 1/31) can be read here. It has been referred to the House Education Committee. It is scheduled to be heard on Monday, Feb. 2. For updates on the status of the bill, go to:

The bill could be modified several times. It can be modified in committee, on the floor of the House, or -- if passed -- by the Senate committee or on the floor of the Senate.

Music teachers Cindy Schmid and Amy Simpson met with Rep. Elaine Harvey and Rep. Joe Barbuto last week. They were able to help them organize talking points for the bill, but did not feel they were successful in making the case to modify "music" to "fine and performing arts."

People in arts education have divided opinions about the bill. On one hand, it would be a great thing that students have options when it comes to scholarship-sanctioned courses. The bill would be a great entry point into the Hathaway program. Once legislators open the door to one art form, others are sure to follow later. The no-cost bill might be seen favorably by legislators wary of big ticket items during tough economic times.

On the other hand, once music is approved as an alternative, perhaps legislators might feel they've done their final bit of Hathaway modifying and close the door forever. That's a danger, although hard times don't last forever -- and neither does a seat in the state legislature. Educators in visual arts and theatre are concerned about this possibility.

Those who want to see the broader category of "fine and performing arts" in the Hathaway legislation suggest these talking points:

1) Wyoming does not have stand-alone standards in music; all of the arts are together under Fine and Performing Arts. Currently, students must gain proficiency in the arts in order to graduate with two of our three diplomas. Keeping it consistent with the current system is simpler for administration purposes, and for districts to advise students.

2) Not all students are good at music. If the purpose is to create successful students, providing as many avenues as possible for success is important. Changing the requirement to the Fine and Performing Arts allows students to select from music, art, dance or theatre.

3) All of the arts provide important benefits to students. A variety of studies has shown correlations between participation in the arts and the likelihood a student will stay in school. All of them develop higher order thinking and creative problem solving skills, which are in high demand in the workforce today.

4) People who participate in the arts are more likely to vote, volunteer and generally participate in public life.

These last two, of course, would also be a danger to Republican hegemony in Wyoming. Another great reason to throw the arts into the mix.

The members of the House Education committee are: Del McOmie (Fremont); Bob Brechtel (Natrona); Cathy Connolly (Albany); Bernadine Craft (Sweetwater); Ross Diercks (Niobrara/Weston/Converse/Goshen); Allan Jaggi (Uinta/Sweetwater); Thomas Lubnau (Campbell); Robert McKim (Lincoln); Matt Teeters (Goshen/Platte). Contact them through

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