The State of Music Education in PPS

Submitted by Elias Roessler on Thu, 10/24/2019 - 11:47 - 0 Comments

Music Education is important. This is a fact that almost everyone can agree on, with multiple studies being done showing the benefits of learning an instrument. Studies show that students who have music education have improved language skills. Not only that, but it also allows students to find a community in which they share a common interest with others, allowing them to become more social, and form new connections. However, more and more schools are cutting their arts programs. Just last year Lincoln cut IB Music and Creative Writing from its list of offered classes due to another run of budget cuts and dwindling interest in the courses. In 2016, Jefferson High school cut its band program one year after its return. This may seem like a recent development, this issue goes all the way back to the 90s when Oregonians voted to change the way we fund our schools. In 1990 Oregon voted to pass Measure No.5, a measure which prohibited districts from using more than 0.5% of the property taxes from that area for school funding. This caused a problem for districts, as they then had to rely more on state funding which is dependent on the unstable income tax, as well as having to compete with other departments to gain funding. In an attempt to ensure we were funding our schools correctly, the state passed a constitutional amendment that required the government to sufficiently fund education. However, this amendment came with a loophole that has allowed the government to consistently underfund schools, and justify it by simply writing a report explaining their decision. In fact, since the implementation of this amendment Oregon has never met its recommended budget for education. Oregon has never met the Quality Education Commission’s recommended budget. This consistent underperformance by the state has forced schools to make cuts in subjects that are deemed less important than others: the arts. In order to combat this, Portland passed the Arts Education and Access Income Tax, or Arts Tax. This tax imposed a fixed rate of $35 onto adults with an annual income above $1000 while living in a house above the poverty line. This tax was meant to provide education in the arts to every school in the 6 Portland-area school districts. However, the tax is far from perfect, from its implementation to the quality of education it provides.

The Fine Print:

The arts tax is only enough to guarantee schools one part-time music or art teacher. This is far from ideal, as many teachers simply cannot afford to live on a part-time salary. This means teachers will have to work at two schools at the same time, taking all the instruments and lesson notes with them between schools. This leads to a situation where music teachers are traveling between schools with inconsistent hours and an incredibly large number of pupils, causing a great level of inconsistency between schools. Students who may have had little to no music education before high school will arrive at a school and have little to no interest in joining band, which leads to the program being cut entirely from the school curriculum. It is this inconsistency in the arts which is killing music education all over the state. If students are not exposed to these subjects at a young age they will rarely develop further interest in it

An Attempt to Find a Solution:

With the absence of structured arts in the official curriculum, charitable organizations have sprung up to provide the education that schools are failing to provide. Some of these charities, like Ethos music center, provide music outreach not just to Portland, but to schools in the more rural areas. Adam Goodwin, the Director of Programs at Ethos agreed to sit down with me and talk about what they are doing to provide a better quality of music education to students all over the state. Ethos was founded in 1998 in direct response to the budget cuts caused by Measure No. 5 that cost so many kids their access to music education. Adam joined Ethos in 2008 as a part of Ethos’ rural outreach program, providing music education to rural communities. As such, he is particularly passionate about Ethos’ rural and urban outreach programs, describing their program as a “jumping-off point” for schools to start their own programs once Ethos leaves the school. Ethos has done great work in the 20 years since its founding, impacting the lives of over 7,000 children each year through its private lessons, after school programs, and more. “the work is far from over” Adam said, “unless we change the way we fund schools”. Ethos isn’t the only charity providing music and arts education to people in Portland. Other charities like Art 4 Life, My Voice Music, Muse, and Vibe are also great organizations that are working hard to improve arts education for young people. You can learn more about these organizations and how you can help to the right.

Organizations To Support:

Ethos Music Center:

Founded in 1998 due to struggling arts education, Ethos provides both on-site group lessons as part of their rural and urban outreach program, as well as private lessons at their main location in North Portland. To donate to them go to https://


Muse was started in 1986, and since then has been dedicated to providing quality music education to students in Oregon and California. Since Muse’s founding, they have reached 12500 children and provided 40 schools with music education. To learn more go to

My Voice Music:

My Voice Music is a local Portland initiative founded in 2008 to provide music outreach to people aged 7-24, teaching them to write, record, and perform original songs. Reaching about 1500 youth per year through their outreach and partner locations, youth perform their songs annually in 20 shows across Portland and on CDs. To learn more go to

Vibe Portland:

Vibe is a small charity based in North Portland that provides art and music education to K-8 schools in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods. Vibe works with local artists and musicians to provide a unique experience for all of its students. To find out more about Vibe and how to get involved go to about/#art-ed


About the Author

Elias Roessler's picture

Elias Roessler is a writer for Beyond the Flock, joinging this year, he is a senior. He is interested in writing about music, and current issues