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Arts educators seek to be included in the Iowa Core education standards

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Fine arts advocates in Iowa are renewing an effort to get music, drama and art included in state education standards.

The Iowa Alliance for Arts Education will lobby lawmakers again next year to amend the Iowa Core to add the fine arts, said Leon Kuehner, the group's executive director. A similar attempt failed in 2014, but Kuehner and allies hope that they will have more luck this time.

"To me it's not a Democrat or a Republican issue, it's a kid issue," Kuehner said.

State law dictates that schools teach the arts, but the fine arts are not listed in the Iowa Core, which was adopted in 2008 after approval from the Legislature and governor. The Iowa Core sets learning goals in five subject areas: literacy, mathematics, science, social studies and 21st century skills.

Kuehner said including fine arts in the learning standards would encourage more investment from schools, as well as make it easier for arts teachers to get professional development funding. His group plans an aggressive effort with dozens of volunteers talking to lawmakers and a day of fine arts events at the Capitol.

A spokesman for Republican Gov. Terry Branstad said he had proposed including the arts in the state standards several years ago, but the effort failed. Jimmy Centers said in a statement that Branstad would need to see any new legislation in the final form but remains generally supportive of the concept.

But the issue may face roadblocks in the Legislature, where Democrats control the Senate and Republicans hold a majority in the House.

Sen. Brian Schoenjohn, a Democrat from Arlington who serves as vice-chair of the Senate education committee, said he supported amending the standards but questioned if a bill would get support of the full Legislature.

"I think a fine arts education is part of a well-rounded education," said Schoenjohn. "I think there is support in the Senate. I don't know about the House."

The Iowa Core incorporates the Common Core reading and math standards developed by the National Governors Association and state education superintendents, which have drawn criticism from conservative lawmakers in many states, who say the federal government is overreaching into classrooms. That concern is held by some Republicans in the Iowa House.

Rep. Ron Jorgensen, a Republican from Sioux City who chairs the House education committee, said he supports arts education but thought any change to the Iowa Core should be handled by the State Board of Education. Another Republican, Rep. Walt Rogers, of Cedar Falls, said he would be hesitant to add any new requirements to the Iowa Core.

"I think mostly it should be a local control issue," Rogers said, adding that he favored arts teaching.

Department of Education Director Brad Buck said making changes through the board doesn't have the same authority as a legislative move. Buck said the department was neutral on this issue earlier this year but is supportive of adding arts to the standards.

"Just like the traditional classes have a place in the Core, we think the fine arts have a place in the Core," he said.

Arts educators would also like to see fine arts incorporated into STEM — or science, technology, engineering and math — teaching. Centers said a work group is reviewing this issue and will present findings to the governor and lieutenant governor next year.

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