Cultural Education Committee



Carole F. Huxley


Approval of Draft Legislation to Fund Museum Curriculum-Related Instruction




August 23, 2006



Goals 1 and 2








Issue for Decision


          Should the Regents approve draft legislation to fund museums and other cultural institutions to increase standards-based instruction in science, social science, the arts 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.  If enacted, the proposed legislation would support the educational contributions to K-12 of museums, historical societies, performing arts, and other cultural institutions, while strengthening ties between those institutions and schools.


Proposed Handling


          Staff recommends Regents approval of the proposed legislative language.


Procedural History


          At the March 2006 meeting of the Cultural Education Committee the concept of legislation to fund museums and historical societies to increase standards-based instruction was discussed. The Committee approved developing the conceptual proposal and presenting a more fully developed concept to the Regents Cultural Education Committee in June. At the June meeting, the Committee approved development of draft legislation, with the additional recommended inclusion of support for educational programming by performing arts and other cultural institutions.


          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.


Elements of the Proposal


            The proposal endorsed by the Cultural Education Committee at the June meeting called for a combination of formula-driven funding based on education service units and a competitive grant program to provide incentives for museums, historical societies and certain other cultural institutions to offer high quality educational services to K-12 educators and students.


          Formula-driven funding would be targeted to museums and historical societies.  It would provide funding based on certified education service units.  The education service unit defined in earlier versions of this legislation was “a period of secular curriculum-related instruction associated with an exhibit, collection or research program provided during regular school hours to eight or more students in K-12.”  The current legislation modifies the definition of educational service unit to one based on student contact hours of certified instruction.


          Certification of the instruction as meeting Regents standards is a key element in this proposal. Certification could be simply the teacher signing off on a form after each museum instructor led program.  An option that also engages district administrators might be more attractive and, over time, create more support for museum programs. This option could involve museums applying to District or BOCES Superintendents for certification of their programs prior to visits by school groups. This could stimulate collaboration between districts and cultural institutions to provide effective services.


          The competitive grants program could fund a variety of services, including but not limited to:


          The Commissioner of Education, acting on behalf of the Regents, will be responsible for administering and evaluating the program, except for the competitive component of grants to performing arts organizations.  The New York State Council on the Arts has agreed to administer that portion of the program.


          The legislation will authorize funding to administer and evaluate the program. An advisory committee composed of educators, SED staff and members of cultural institutions will offer guidance and assist in the selection process.  Selection criteria could include weights to reward education services that target high-need students, content areas such as math and science, or other critical needs.  The funding level is expected to be $30 million per year.  Sixteen million dollars would be available for formula based aid, $ 6.5 million for competitive grants to museums, $5.0 million for competitive grants to performing arts institutions and other cultural institutions, and $2.5 million for the administration and evaluation of the program.


Background Information


Education Law 216 authorizes the Regents to incorporate museums and other educational institutions, and 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. 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 in bringing school children through their doors and into their halls.  Regent’s 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.”  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.


Of those New York State 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 proposed legislation has been discussed widely with museum professionals, the Museum Association of New York and the State Council on the Arts. The proposal was received positively by all entities. The Museum Association has already included the legislative concept in briefing materials prepared for candidates for statewide office. Museum professionals and the Museum Association have volunteered their full support should the Regents approve the proposed legislation.




          Staff recommends that the Regents approve the draft legislative proposal.