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What Would Business Investment in Arts Education Look Like?

MA Senate President Pro Tem Stan Rosenberg

This blog continues my conversation with Harvey White that took place during the “Heating Up STEM to STEAM” session at the Americans for the Arts Annual Convention earlier this summer. Read Mr. White’s initial comments here.

Sen. Stan Rosenberg:
“No, it’s not dumb, but I also want to do a little counterpoint here to see where you might go with this…OK, so I think the key role for the business leaders is to provide the leadership to push the government in the direction to make the investment and make the investment in a wiser way.

We spend $5 billion on education K-12 in Massachusetts. I don’t think it’s fair to go to the business community and tell them to give us another $1-2 billion to run that system. But I would sure love to use the leadership and capacity that they have to push the governor and other people to use some of that money more wisely.

Harvey White:
But you have no qualms at all in saying to the business that you ought to spend another billion on factories?

Sen. Stan Rosenberg:


Harvey White:
When I talk to politicians, it’s all: “Well, I can’t stand up and say ‘we ought to put arts in schools, we ought to change the education system because it doesn’t include a fully integrated education system.’ I would never get voted in.

All my people that vote for me would just run scared—this guy’s crazy. Instead of giving me more money to build a dam or do whatever is that they want, but arts?”

How could you do that surreptitiously? So they wouldn’t have to stand up and say, ‘I want to put arts in there.’ But all they had to do was to change how businesses treated that investment. You might get it. It might happen. They might actually sneak that through!

Sen. Stan Rosenberg:
How would that system work? Would they be writing checks to the schools or to the government?

Harvey White:
They’d make an investment in a certain set of education programs. I think you’d have to define it pretty well so it wasn’t just, “Well, if I give $10 to the science fair, I get to write it off.”

Sen. Stan Rosenberg:
So should we do a tax credit or tax deduction against your corporate income tax?

Harvey White:
Yea, you could do that, but I wonder if you even have to do that if you can change how it is reported.

If you could amortize it over 30 years, because you’ve really done something important, you might not even have to spend money, you might just get it. But the worst you could do is [research and development]. You could do like R&D and get tax credits for it. People don’t normally complain when companies get tax credits for R&D. So, it’s not like asking for money.  In a sense it is, but people won’t complain about it.

Sen. Stan Rosenberg:
What’s the deliverable here? A collaboration potentially between a business and a school district would be a potential model?

Harvey White:
I’m just really frustrated on why business spent money (although they didn’t have quarterly earnings back when Carnegie did this), but why they spent all this money to create the workforce they wanted, and why they don’t spend the money today to create the workforce they want.

And the only thing I could think of was that they can’t afford to from a perception basis [i.e. quarterly earnings], not on a money basis, but from a perception basis.

Now, I could be dead wrong, but I would like to talk to you [Stan] more about this afterwards because you’ve got innovate people that might actually figure out what to do with this!”

Note: To hear more from Mr. White and Sen. Rosenberg you can listen to the rest of this session by purchasing Convention On-Demand, which includes all sessions and keynotes from the 2011 Annual Convention.

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