In This Article:

Editor’s Note: According to a November 12, 2008 release from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, at least 41 states faced or are currently facing major shortfalls for this and/or next year: current estimates of mid-year gaps total $24.3 billion (on top of a $48 billion shortfall announced in late summer) and will certainly widen as economic turmoil continues. As a result, at least 16 states have already cut or made proposals to cut K-12 education with additional cuts likely.

In these times of unprecedented fiscal crisis, it’s more important than ever to have a strong and active local music coalition to defend your school music programs.

Students who study music are found to do better in school and in life: a recent Harris Poll revealed that 93% of Americans agree that the arts are vital to providing a well-rounded education for children and a Lake Research poll of 1,000 likely voters revealed that 83% of voters believe that a greater focus on the arts – alongside science, technology, and math – would better prepare students to address the demands of the 21st century. The arts and music are essential to students’ development, yet these programs are particularly vulnerable to school district budget cuts. In fact, a 2007 study from the Center on Education Policy found that 30% of school districts have already decreased instruction time for arts and music since the enactment of NCLB.

All children deserve access to a quality music education. It’s never too late to form a local music coalition and get involved. The following article is a reprint of Dr. John Benham’s advice on forming a local coalition, originally published in early 2005.

Why does your district need a local Music Coalition?

Because it is the most effective way to ensure that your school district provides equal educational opportunities for all students to participate in the making of music! An effective local music coalition holds a school district accountable for student-centered decision making.

  • A local coalition places the student back to the center of the decision-making process.
  • A local coalition unifies the music program as a unified district-wide curriculum.A local coalition is a community organization that incorporates all of its constituents in the support of music making.
  • A local coalition provides for bringing music into all of life.
  • A local coalition puts the "public" in Public Education!

Internal or Independent? Which Coalition Type is Best For Your District?

Your music coalition may be organized as a support group within the educational system (Type 1), or operate outside the district as an independent entity for the support of music within the schools (Type 2).

Districts that select the independent option often take legal steps to become recognized as a non-profit corporation. It must be structured in such a way as to provide for representation from every level of education from each school in the district, and from the community at large. Each structure has issues that determine which form may be most successful in a specific district.

Local Music Coalition Issues

Type 1: Contained Within the DistrictType 2: Independent of the School DistrictAppears to be a collaborative body within the district, potentially facilitating more cooperation within the systemMay be perceived as an adversarial body, leading to potential power struggles within the communityMay facilitate increased cooperation from administration; for example, building usage, distribution of materials, membership drivesMay make it more difficult to acquire administrative cooperationOften limits membership to parents with children currently in the programOften limits membership to parents with children currently in the programTends to be oriented toward specific music performing organizations (band, orchestra, chorus)More apt to have broad focus on music education rather than specific curricular segmentsTends to become focused on the high schoolTends to be more broad based, including representation of all levels of educationGreater turnover in leadership may lead to teacher dependency for motivationCommunity ownership provides for wider leadership base and long term participationOriented toward fund-raising; less on curricular and philosophical issuesBroader focus on all aspects of music, including philosophical and curricular issuesMay lead to competition between different areas of the music programMore tendency to provide for balance between curricular areas

Committees Will Make Your Music Coalition More Effective

The local music coalition should have a central EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE that provides for a balanced representation of all components of the music curriculum: band, choir, orchestra, and general music (P-12).

In addition to any other basic organizational or management structures you wish to establish, I recommend that you have at least the following four committees:

COMMUNICATIONS: Serving as a Public Relations vehicle with the public, this committee functions as the primary means of dispersing any information related to the music program. It includes the following responsibilities:

1. Recruits and activates membership

  • Provides opportunities for membership enrollment at all music functions in the district
  • Develops and maintains mailing lists*Provides a visible presence at all music activities within the district
  • Develops and maintains email and/or telephone contact system, particularly for emergency meetings

2. Distributes information as a Public Relations entity

  • Develops, publishes and distributes a District Music Newsletter
  • Develops and maintains a Community Music Website

ADMINISTRATIVE LIAISON: This committee serves as a representative body for the exchange of information with members of the administration and school board in matters related to district policy as it affects the music program. It includes the following responsibilities:

  1. Represents the community as the primary advocacy body in support of music for all children in the district
  2. Serves as a vehicle for communication between the Music Faculty, Administration, School Board, and community in matters related to policy
  3. Assists the music department in developing and presenting proposals related to music policy
  4. Acquires knowledge of administrative proposals or issues within the district that may affect the music program
  5. Provides representation at every school board meeting with at least one member of the committee
  6. Recruits, trains, supports and elects members to the school board and legislative bodies that support music education for all children by actions that lead to specific and positive outcomes for students
  7. Holds public officials accountable for their decisions related to music education


  1. Represents the community in matters related to the maintenance of relevant statistical data on the music program, such as Faculty Issues, Student Participation, Economic Status
  2. Works with the Music Department, Administration and School Board to develop adequate budgets for aspects of the music program that are Curricular and Co-curricular
  3. Works with the Music Department, Administration and School Board to establish policies that restrict fundraising to those aspects of the music program that are Extra-curricular or unique occasional events that may not be funded as regular line items in the Curricular or Co-curricular budgets, such as invitational performances at regional, national or international events
  4. Works with the Music Department, Administration and School Board to establish policies that prohibit the implementation of extra fees for participation in music
  5. Manages all fundraising activities and revenues, and specifically related expenses