The most important thing we have learned in our advocacy efforts is that relationships matter.  Whether Democrat, Republican or Independent, we are able to work with policymakers--- at all levels of government--- to advance music and arts education.  As the post-Labor Day election season is here, it is important to inventory candidates and staff at every level--- from presidential to congressional to gubernatorial to state legislators.

Armed with evidence-based research and sound reasoning, we have communicated the importance of providing students with access to a well-rounded education, including access to quality music and arts programs.  Our efforts have been successful as a result of your tenacity and passion and getting to know your elected representatives. As the post-Labor Day election season is here, it is important to inventory candidates and staff at every level--- from presidential to congressional to gubernatorial to state legislators.  Regarding music and arts education, it is critical that we (1) research their policies and platforms, (2) identify opportunities to participate in candidate events and reach out to their campaigns, and (3) leverage influence with candidates we know and build relationships with future elected officials.   To guide your communication efforts in the coming weeks, below is a snapshot of major issues and elections at all levels of government in November.

Major National Campaign Issues

There are 4 major issues that Republican and Democratic voters agree should be top priorities of the presidential candidates:  jobs and the economy; terrorism and national security; healthcare; and education.  Ninety percent of Democrats consider education extremely/very important to 67% of Republicans (Gallup 2016 Benchmark Survey).

Key Point:   Higher education issues, particularly college access and student debt are capturing the attention of voters, but implementation of ESSA slated for the 2017-2018 school year are timely and relevant to policymakers at all levels, especially in what role they may have in developing individual state plans.

Relevance of Music and Arts Education

Passage of the new federal law Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and its implementation at the state and local levels is a bridge to conversations with candidates. These elected officials are charged with oversight and development of state plans at the state and local levels and oversight of implementation guidance at the federal level.

Key Point:  Congress mandates in the new ESSA law that students be provided with a well- rounded education.  For the first time Music is listed in the law as one of the academic subjects that contributes to a well-rounded education.  Now is the time to advocate for access to music and arts education during this ongoing process of state plan development.

Presidential Candidates: Policies and Party Platforms on Music/Arts Education

Hillary Clinton supports music and arts education being taught in the classroom and believes an investment in music and the arts is an investment in the future of children.  She has indicated that music and arts can be transformational in the lives of all children when fully funded and supported. 

Key Quote: "That is why it is not only something that is the right thing to do---supporting arts education--- but it's the smart thing for our nation, for both the public sector and the private sector.  Because we are by doing so, doing one of the things that we know will pay off the most in making children better able to learn." (White House, 1998 Arts Education Meeting)

Donald Trump supports a well-rounded education.  He opposes the US Department of Education determining how education dollars are spent for music and the arts, or otherwise.

Key Quote:  "Critical thinking skills, the ability to read, write and do basic math are still the keys to economic success.  A holistic education that includes literature and the arts is just as critical to creating good citizens."  (Washington Post interview 2016)

In the party platforms ratified at their conventions, the Democratic Party platform includes:  "Democrats are proud of our support for arts funding and education.  We will continue to support public funding for…. programs providing art and music education in primary and secondary schools… and high quality STEAM programs".  There is no specific reference to music/arts education in the Republican Party platform.

Congressional Elections

All 435 seats in the US House of Representatives will be up for election this year.  Forty-three of these House seats are "open" since the incumbent is not seeking election.  Thirty-four US Senate seats are up for reelection, 24 Republicans and 10 Democrats.  At this point in time, speculation is that the House will remain a Republican majority, and the Senate could flip to a Democratic majority given the larger number of contested Senate Republicans up for reelection.

Key Point:  This is an opportunity to reach out to your US representatives to reinforce your position on music and the arts as well-rounded subjects as mandated in the new federal law.

Gubernatorial Elections

Twelve governorships are up for election this year with 8 of them being now held by Democrats. Governors from the following states will be elected in 2016: DE, IN, MO, MT, NH, NC, ND, OR, UT, VT, WA, WV (the 4 in bold are the most closely watched elections.)

Key Point:  This is an important time to reach out to the candidates for governor in these states to advocate for music and arts education as a vital part of ESSA state plans to provide a well-rounded education.  In the new law, Governors are required to sign off on their state plans giving them substantial influence in developing and approving them.

State Legislative Elections

Forty-two of the 50 state senates are holding elections this year as are 44 of the 49 state houses.  Altogether, 5,920 (80.2%) of the country's 7,383 state legislative seats are up for election during this election year.  The following states are NOT holding state legislative elections this year:  AL, LA, MD, MS, NJ, VA.  In Michigan, only elections to the state House will be held.

Key Point:  Your local senators and representatives to your state legislature are important relationships to develop and maintain.  Some may serve on the legislature's education committees and others may have influence with the governor and other local officials who are active in developing your state plan for ESSA implementation.

Deciding on Your Involvement

There are many opportunities for participation in these elections.  It is important to distinguish between volunteering on a campaign and communicating with a campaign.  While you may choose to do both, your efforts here are directed at communications to raise awareness and provide information on the issue of music and arts education to all candidates seeking election--- Democratic, Independent, Republican.  It is important to recognize that Congress has completed its legislative work on ESSA, that the current Administration is developing guidance for the states to implement the new law, that state governors and legislators (and other stakeholders, like you) will be developing the plans through most of next year.  The next President will appoint a new US Secretary of Education who will oversee the continued implementation.

Key Point:  Decide which elections this year are the most important to you--- federal, state or local--- and develop strategies to contact those particular candidates or staff.  Your input can be provided in-person at town hall meetings, at an appointment or other events; by emailing or calling campaign offices; and communications/comments via campaign websites.

Presidential Transition

The presidential candidates have already formed committees to plan for the next Administration.  Donald Trump has appointed NJ Governor Chris Christie to lead his transition team and former Michigan Congressman Mike Rogers will likely lead the national security group within the transition team.  Hillary Clinton has appointed former Colorado Senator and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to lead her team, along with former National Security Advisor Tom Donilon and former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm.  The committees begin early to forge a smooth and successful transition for whoever wins the presidency.

Key Point:  While there will be more that 4,000 appointments made by a new Administration, the most significant in terms of music and arts education will be the new Secretary of Education, the head of the National Endowment of the Arts, and other senior officials named to those agencies.  We will monitor closely. 

Written By: Leo Coco, Senior Policy Advisor, Nelson Mullins Riley and Scarborough LLP