Cultural Education Committee



Carole F. Huxley


Conceptual proposal for legislation to support museum education programs




February 21, 2006



Goals 1 and 2








Issue for Decision


          Should the Regents propose legislation to fund museums and historical societies to increase standards-based instruction in science, social science and the humanities for K-12 schools?


Reason for Consideration


          The reason to advocate for such legislation is to enlist effective USNY engagement in raising academic performance and in eliminating the academic performance gap. 


Proposed Handling


          A conceptual proposal is presented for discussion by the Committee at the March meeting for future action on a fully developed legislative proposal by the Full Board.


Procedural History


          The Regents first supported legislation in 1986 to fund museum curriculum-related instruction, known as MESA.  Legislation was last introduced in 1989 (S.5669-A, A.7479-A) to create ACCESS – Access for Children to Cultural Education Services.  The bills proposed a system of reimbursement for museum programs presented to K-12 students in public and nonpublic schools.  The Senate passage in 1988 was not duplicated in the Assembly.  With the recession of the early 1990’s the proposal was not again advanced.


Background Information


Education Law 216 authorizes the Regents to incorporate museums and other educational institutions; Regents Rules Sec. 3.27 provides standards for chartered museums.  Unlike schools and libraries, however, museums do not benefit from a dedicated funding mechanism or categorical grant program in the Education Department.  To meet Regents standards, museums must largely raise their own funds. 


Educators have long supported the role of museums as educational institutions that inspire curiosity and discovery-based learning.  Using objects and exhibits rather than textbooks and lectures, children learn skills in inquiry and analysis.  By studying the objects that document scientific discoveries and interpretation of history, they learn the importance of research using primary sources.  Scientists, such as the late Stephen Jay Gould, often credit their museum experience with motivating their entry into their field of work.




          Staff recommends that the Cultural Education Committee request a formal legislative proposal be developed for their review and approval.


Timetable for Implementation


          The formal proposal would be brought back to the Regents for review in June.  It would then be broadly discussed in meetings of senior staff with museum and historical society officials.  A refined version of the legislation would come back for final review and approval in the fall of 2006.  If approved by the Regents, it would be a part of the Regents legislative package for 2007/8.














Summary of Case for Support of Museum Education Programs



Educators and museum professionals have long worked together to involve museums in K-12 education.  Since the early 20th century, museums such as the Metropolitan Museum, the American Museum of Natural History, the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens and the New York State Museum pioneered bringing school children through their doors and into their halls.  Regents policy, most recently expressed in the amended Regents Rule 3.27 for museums voted in February, requires that a museum or historical society holding an Absolute Charter will “ensure that any school programs conducted by the institution shall be based on the appropriate State learning standards, and with input from teachers and/or other educators.”


Of those New York museums that had a facility open to the public, according to 2003 annual reports, 77 percent reported hosting organized groups of students, and 81 percent reported visits by students. 


This level of activity has occurred even though there is no State funding for such programs, and there is a lack of available models and curricula.  Disadvantaged and at-risk youth and their families are not likely to be regular visitors to museums.  Such young people may also not feel “welcome” in a museum that may appear intimidating and alien.  But a well-planned and relevant class visit to a museum could open doors to such young people.  It is ironic that the learning gap in the State’s largest cities takes place in the very shadows of some of the world’s foremost science, art and history museums.


          The reimbursement formula would be based on instructional hours.  The formula would contain a base so that small museums would get some support and a cap so that the largest museums would not deplete the pool of funding.  Lastly, there would be special funding incentives to encourage participation by disadvantaged schools, at-risk youth and for programs in low-income neighborhoods or communities.  The funding total would be in the range of $20 million to ensure sufficient resources to produce high quality programming in partnership with schools’ expressed needs.