The district was forced earlier this year to eliminate 87 jobs - including elementary art, music and physical education teachers - to make up for a $9 million budget deficit. Instead, the district implemented an "innovative arts and fitness" program where fewer than 20 non-certified "consultant" instructors teach the subjects during regular class time alongside teachers.
The Lansing School District declined to make Superintendent Yvonne Caamal Canul or members of the district's innovative arts and fitness program available for interviews, citing end-of-year schedules.
Cutting arts educators is a common cost-savings move for districts because of how art teachers are trained and how funding is allocated to schools, Joni Starr, assistant professor of education at Michigan State University said.
"It’s more expensive because you have to hire a qualified arts teacher," Starr said. "It’s easy to cut because they’re specialists in their field and not in a self-contained classroom."
Students preparing for careers in art or music education at Michigan State receive training through the university's programs in those artistic disciplines to become certified as experts in those fields, Starr said.
"The whole reason people get qualified is to show their training and expertise in the field," she said.
Lansing School District has received some financial support to help cushion the blow of eliminating separate arts classes at the elementary level..
In September, the district received an almost $4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Magnet School Assistance program. The grant, the only one received by a Michigan school district, helped to cover the cost of setting up "STEAM" programs at two schools, Cavanaugh Elementary and Mount Hope Elementary.
The "STEAM" programs are designed to incorporate arts instruction into a science, technology, engineering and mathematics curriculum, a growing trend across the country.
Sesame Workshop, the company that produces "Sesame Street" for PBS, introduced STEAM concepts through a new segment, "Elmo the Musical," where the popular Muppet incorporates math concepts into musical sequences.
According to Sesame Workshop, incorporating arts into the STEM curriculum allows children to understand how the disciplines interact with producing and interpreting art.
Watch 'Elmo the Musical'
Starr said the STEAM concept is "somewhat controversial" because it can lead to classroom teachers using art and music to teach core subjects, but without including instruction on the art forms themselves.
"Using the arts to enhance learning in other subjects is great," Starr said. "The problem is, if we’re relying on the classroom teacher to teach the arts, they aren’t. They’re using the arts to teach other subjects."
Starr, who teaches courses on integrating arts education into regular classroom teaching, said the level of familiarity required with the arts to teach both core content and arts content makes it difficult for a single teacher to do both.
"It’s really hard to be able to have all that information to the depth one needs to pull off an arts integration lesson," Starr said.