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‘Circus arts’ bill floats with ease through Senate ed committee

Hezekiah Farrell, with Wise Fool New Mexico, helps Nubia Gomez, 17, top, and Diana Menjivar, 16, practice moves at Capital High School on Wednesday. Wise Fool could receive funding under legislation that would appropriate money for 'circus arts' education. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Hezekiah Farrell, with Wise Fools New Mexico, help Nubia Gomez, 17, top and Diana Menjivar, 16, practice moves he taught at Capital High School in Santa Fe last month. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE – A bill that would allocate $100,000 for “circus arts” education flew through the Senate Education Committee with relative ease Friday, passing after only about 15 minutes of discussion on a 7-2 vote.

Senate Bill 412 calls for the money to be taken out of the general fund and given to the state Public Education Department to distribute to school districts or charter schools to teach such things as juggling, stilt-walking, clowning, acrobatics and trapeze.

“It has nothing to do with elephants and animals,” said Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, the bill’s sponsor. “It has to do with youth development.”

During the public input period, supporters of the bill – most of them employees of Wise Fool New Mexico, a Santa Fe nonprofit group that already goes into 17 schools in the Santa Fe and Pojoaque school districts to teach circus arts – said circus arts help students learn self-confidence, discipline and teamwork.

Alanna Herrera, youth programs director at Wise Fool, said the students learning to stilt-walk learn more than just the skill.

“It’s not about them being able to stilt-walk through the rest of their life; it’s about the skills they develop in learning it,” she said.

Alliyah Noor, development director for Wise Fool, said circus arts are nothing new and are taught in a lot of schools in Europe.

“I just want to make sure you all understand that this isn’t some weird thing we’re doing over on the south side of town,” she said. “This is something real, and it works.”

Leaders of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation and NEA-New Mexico also spoke in favor of the bill.

Susanne Mulholland was the only person to speak against the proposal. While she said she thought circus arts were wonderful, “Could that $100,000 purchase thousands and thousands of books for children in other parts of the state?”

She also wondered if students in rural parts of the state, like Jal and Logan, would have as much access to circus arts education as students in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.

Amy Christian, artistic director at Wise Fool, said she knows of six organizations around the state that teach circus arts and her group has gone to schools in rural areas before.

Republican senators Gregg Fulfer of Jal and Craig Brandt of Rio Rancho, who brought a stuffed circus elephant to the meeting, cast the lone votes against the bill.

Brandt asked questions about liability and how the funding would be distributed.

Christian said Wise Fool carries its own liability insurance and safety is always emphasized during what are usually eight sessions held during art or physical education periods.

Committee chairman William Soules, D-Las Cruces, said his biggest concern was over how the funding would be distributed. He said it was unclear whether PED would distribute funding directly to groups that teach circus arts, such as Wise Fool, or to school districts or charter schools, who could then contract with those groups.

The bill has also been assigned to the Senate Finance Committee but has not yet been scheduled to be heard.

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