This past May, NAMM continued its annual advocacy effort in Washington D.C., bringing a contingent of nearly 100 music industry delegates, representing 35 states, to Capitol Hill to advocate for music and arts education in the public schools. An integral figure in the effort is NAMM’s Government Relations and Public Affairs Director, Mary Luehrsen, who’s been an advocate for music programs for well over a decade. Shortly after the Fly-In, GAMA spoke to Luehrsen to learn about the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the current funding fight involving the federal education law, and how NAMM members are making their voices heard to ensure every child, in every state, has a deep desire to make music and a recognized right to be taught.
GAMA: Give us an overview of ESSA. Why did NAMM support ESSA’s passage? How does it help the guitar-playing community?
Mary Luehrsen: ESSA is the most recent version of our nation’s federal education law, outlining policies and priorities for education for all children in the country. The previous education law, No Child Left Behind, defined music and the arts as part of the core curriculum. However, the emphasis on testing in other core subjects—most notably, math and reading—narrowed the curriculum to tested subjects. ESSA redefines core subjects with a broader view of a well-rounded education—including music and the arts—that should be available to all children. ESSA offers states greater access to federal education funds to support well-rounded subjects, and flexibility in implementation.
All students having a well-rounded education, including music, aligns with NAMM’s vision of music being part of children’s daily lives. And, although the law is not fully funded, nor have all states offered their plans for implementation, we believe the impact on musical instrument manufacturers, including guitar companies, will be positive.
GAMA: During the Fly-In, what “asks” did the delegates have for lawmakers?
Luehrsen: Our “asks” this year focused on funding in the 2018 appropriations. We want full funding for ESSA. Specifically, in Title I, to increase disadvantaged students’ opportunity for a well-rounded education, and in Title IV, to fund the Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grant program, which is currently underfunded. We also want support for professional development for music and arts teachers. The essential “ask” is that education funding, established via the budget process, must follow the recommended and authorized funding levels in the bill. The proposed budget seriously undercuts the promises made in ESSA.
GAMA: What can people do to influence the process, ensuring maximum funding for programs that teach children to play guitar or other musical instruments?
Luehrsen: Get involved! NAMM’s SupportMusic Coalition is active from California to Massachusetts with state-level advocacy programs, and it helps assist individual members with their advocacy efforts in many other locations. Members who want to learn more about hot-topic issues in music education today, or who want to access resources, can visit the NAMM Foundation’s website (www.nammfoundation.org) or give our team a call. We’re here to assist.
GAMA: What are the best arguments industry members can use when speaking to lawmakers and public officials about funding guitar programs and other music programs in our public schools?
Luehrsen: Simply stated, if we, as a society, are committed to offering the best education possible, then music and arts, as part of a well-rounded education, must be available to all students. Research continues to demonstrate the multitude of benefits—increased brain function, focus and language development, for example—that music education offers. Students who participate in music are more likely to graduate high school and attend college. In low-performing schools where the arts have been introduced, test scores and attendance have risen and disciplinary actions have declined. The benefits of music education extend beyond the school bell, too, supporting the development of career and life skills like discipline, teamwork, leadership and self-efficiency.
GAMA: If industry members want to participate in next year’s Fly-In for the first time, what should they do?
Luehrsen: The Fly-In is the one time NAMM members come together as a powerful delegation of music advocates to speak directly to elected officials and policymakers. And it trickles down, as NAMM members assume a stronger role in state and local music advocacy. A full briefing and training day informs members about the latest legislative developments at the federal level and in their home states. So, all delegates—whether it’s their first trip or their fifth—have the latest music-education-policy information.
Year after year, members tell me the Fly-In is personally and professionally transformative. To those thinking about joining us, know that this is your opportunity to impact the future of music-education policy. Our group’s engagement, over a period of years, led to enactment of ESSA; now, more than ever, we must continue to push to ensure that millions of school-aged children don’t miss out on music education as part of their daily lives.
To kick off each Fly-In, we host a reunion and informational meeting at the NAMM Show in January. All are welcome!