Raleigh, N.C. — The House Education Committee on Tuesday approved a proposal that would require students to pass at least one arts course in middle or high school to graduate.
House Bill 127 next goes to the full House for debate.
Rep. Becky Carney, D-Mecklenburg, one of the bill co-sponsors, said she and other have worked six years to craft legislation that meets with approval from the state Department of Public Instruction. Allowing students seven years to take the arts course, instead of simply adding another requirement to the high school course load, accomplishes that, she said.
"The No. 1 driver with companies looking to recruit people to work for them is creativity and innovation," Carney said. "That comes from having exposure to the arts with our children."
The requirement would start with ninth-graders in 2016.
Although the bill had bipartisan support, some lawmakers criticized the legislation for requiring what they said should be an elective for students interested in arts.
"There are some things that are better taught to people who want to be taught than not," said Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake. "How do you say you're dealing with basic education when you're requiring for graduation something that is necessary for society but not necessarily necessary for every student?"
Stam noted that schools in Chapel Hill required students for years to know how to swim to graduate before eventually dropping that requirement.
Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus, said that he never needed any knowledge of the arts during his years as a minister or working in a packaging warehouse.
"I think art is a fine thing, and for those who have the talent and have the interest, it should be available. But it is not an essential," Pittman said.
Carney said the arts help keep some students interested in school, and other lawmakers said such courses provide skills far beyond drawing or playing a musical instrument.
"I can't sing, I can't dance, I don't have any real ability to draw, but I tell you what art brings to the table – perspective," said Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union. "Perspective is key to success in business, in academia, in life, and that's what an arts course would bring to kids here in North Carolina."
Rep. John Torbett, R-Gaston, said an arts requirement would ensure that school districts don't cut funding for such classes as budgets get tight.
Christie Lynch Ebert, an arts education consultant for DPI, said 75 to 80 percent of North Carolina high school students already take at least one arts course, and many middle school students statewide also take such courses. She said there are enough qualified arts teachers in North Carolina to meet the demand if classes are required for graduation.
Stam asked what would happen to students who transfer into North Carolina public schools as 11th- or 12th-graders, but Carney noted that 27 other states already have an arts requirement for graduation and that summer courses or outside activities, such as membership in a dance troupe, might satisfy the requirement.