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Investing in Arts Education to Ensure a Strong Future Workforce

Harvey White

During the “Heating Up STEM to STEAM” session at the Americans for the Arts Annual Convention this past summer, I engaged Massachusetts Senate President Pro Tem Stan Rosenberg in a tête-à-tête about workforce development. Below is the first half of a conversation we had on the panel (You can access the full session via Convention On-Demand):

“This [educational] system that we have today was created by industry to create the workforce they needed. We’re going to need to get business leaders [involved], as it happened in Massachusetts. If you [arts education advocates] want to talk to somebody other than your arts friends or your educator, talk to your business man—that if you’re going to have the workforce that you want, you need to have the kind of education system that will give you that workforce.

This [expanded arts education] will not, in my opinion, happen if it does not get embraced by business. And I could go on for a long time about what I think that may mean. But talk about wanting to expand this—the next person you want to talk to besides your neighbor and your arts advocate [is the business man]…

Why do business people not embrace this? And [not] give money to it? What I saw was that individual business people give a lot of money. From a philanthropic standpoint, most every community prospers from the rich people from the business world that give money. But businesses don’t. Why is that? I think it’s really very simple…it’s called quarterly earnings.

If they miss their whisper number on a quarterly earnings, everything goes down…their stock goes down, they’re not as rich personally, and the company’s not doing so well. So how do you fix that?

And I got to thinking about, and this is really kind of off the top of my head, and I don’t have the answer to this, but…If you’ve got a growth business, and you go to the financial community, and say, “I’m going to really plow forward with this, and I’m going to make something out of it, and I’m going to spend $100 million to build a new plant in Massachusetts or Taiwan or wherever it is. I’m really going to drive this company forward because that is an investment in the future.”

The financial guy will say [applauding], “Wonderful, this guy is really looking to the future.” And they let you write it off over 30 years, which helps.

But if you went in and said, “I need a workforce. That’s my investment in the future, and that’s what will drive my company and make me prosperous across the nation. And I want to put $100 million into it.” They would go crazy…“You’re going to drop that money to the bottom line?”

If you look at [research and development], there are tax credits for that. If you look at how you report (Generally Accepted Accounting Principals vs. pro forma), analysts will set aside certain things…

I think government, if they want (in a way that’s really not putting money out, they don’t have to pass bills to give you a billion dollars), that if they just adjust some of these procedures so that if you make an investment in a prescribed manner (that really moves the education system forward and includes arts in that and includes a fully innovative education system), that somehow you don’t have to report it in the same way; that you can report it as an investment in the future.

I’m not just talking about tax credits. I think that there could be a lot of progress made for businesses to be able to make the investment. Because I think they know that they need to, but they cannot afford to.

That would not be all that hard to do. I’m going to talk to the senator about this and ask him to do this in Massachusetts afterwards. [Laughter from the audience.]

It strikes me that if you could change just the reporting, and make it into pro forma, get whoever does that (the Securities and Exchange Commission or the GAAP or somebody), as opposed to the GAAP earnings, the total earnings, or if you could capitalize it in some way, or write it off over some period of time that you could incentivize the business community to invest monetarily in arts education as a way of developing a future innovative workforce.

Is that dumb?”

Note: You can read Senator Rosenberg’s response and more of their conversation here.

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