Big Pitch For School Music Programs

No Strings worker Johnie Chuchie, puppet in hand, with group of children in Herat, Afhghanistan, 2005.
The push for more funding for school music programs got a boost Thursday from a former school band member with a famous face.

President Clinton, who used his skill with the saxophone to woo voters on the way to the White House, was back in persuasion mode as he visited New York, stopping by an East Harlem elementary school before taking on an evening fundraiser for New York Democratic Congressman Edolphus Towns.

Interviewed at the elementary school on NBC's Today show, in conjunction with VH1's Save The Music fundraising campaign, President Clinton said "it was tragic" that music programs frequently are the easiest target when budget-minded administrators have to cut education costs.

"I've been very disturbed" about the problem, the president said. "Over the last 20 years, more and more as schools have come under financial pressure, they have tended to drop their music programs."

By some estimates, only 25 percent of American schools offer music programs as a basic part of the curriculum.

"We know that a lot of our young children learn better if they have access to music education," Mr. Clinton said. "Not everyone learns in the same way, not everyone's brain is stimulated in the same way. And the schools that have vigorous music programs tend to have higher academic performance."

As he mentioned in one of his recent radio addresses, Mr. Clinton said the federal government should do more to ease the financial strain on schools by providing more money to hire new teachers and build more classrooms.

The president is calling on parents to get more involved with their schools to bring in music programs.

"One of the things that really happened is a lot of folks just took the music programs for granted," said Mr. Clinton. "A lot of people who were making tough budget decisions assumed nobody would care if they were eliminated. And it was tragic, what happened."

He added, "You'll see a big infusion of public money going back into these programs because of what VH1 has done and because more and more parents will insist on the music being there. And I'll be glad to do whatever I can to help."

Separately, the president also visited an elementary school in Queens, to underscore the need for new school construction and repairs.