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As state lawmakers settle into their general session, they must come to understand how important is arts education to the children of Utah. As a teacher "in the trenches," I want my and my students' collective voices to be heard.

Arts and humanities are not fluff. They are not extras. The arts are academic, an inseparable part of a comprehensive education. Arts are deeply connected disciplines and all learning is strengthened through them. In arts learning, there's not just one way to solve a problem, or one right answer, but many possibilities. And it requires personal judgment and responsibility to resolve an artistic challenge and stand by it.

It is about connecting — to ideas, other disciplines and the world at large, and it takes an integrated approach to reach every student and leave not one behind.

Every day I see how important this is for children. A fifth-grader who lacks any sensibility takes a quilling tool and turns a strip of paper into a beautiful bird. A behaviorally challenged student becomes focused and draws contour lines with finesse. Student attendance rises on the day there is art class.

The arts make sense of our lives. They give us an open mind, an eye for everyday beauty, a reason for living. Historic cultures are discovered. Creativity and the beauty of humanness are conveyed and appreciated.

Van Gogh's amazing persistence in painting, despite poverty, loneliness and mental illness, helps us see what we can overcome through the human spirit. Contemporary, political and environmental issues help students understand tragedies and triumphs in our world through the lens of art.

That world is smattered with gun violence, the deaths of innocents, poverty and political unrest. Teaching our children tolerance through the arts brings these issues home. It makes them deeply personal because we can all relate at a human level. Universal problems become our own stories.

The arts teach problem-solving and cooperation, persistence, courage, ingenuity, compromise. They are a balm for our troubled world. They encourage the beautiful and magnificent in each of us and in our education system. They are intrinsically important.

The arts are what is lacking in our school system and must be seen as valued. With budgets limited and federal benchmarks looming in the balance, what we need is already in place. The Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program is a proven success. It is time for Utah to stand behind it and make it a permanent, viable part of our collective education future

I urge our legislators to fully fund the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program, and to support arts education. It develops critical skills in our students that will turn into creative, innovative careers and jobs in our 21st century world.

Lori Wrankle is an elementary visual arts specialist in two elementary schools in southern Utah.