State code requires that public schools offer access to all four arts disciplines — dance, music, theater and visual art — but 89 percent of Garden State students attend schools where only a selection of those disciplines is offered.

Students of the Freehold Regional High School District decorate downtown Freehold for the 2016 Halloween season (Dino Flammia, Townsquare Media NJ)

Twenty-six schools offered zero arts education during the 2015-2016 academic year, according to research from Arts Ed NJ.

Despite those shortcomings, New Jersey is extremely close to universal access for arts education. If achieved, New Jersey would become the only state in the nation to make that claim, according to Arts Ed NJ co-director Bob Morrison.

According to the group's research, 99 percent of New Jersey schools provided arts education in 2015-2016. Universal access would be achieved when 100 percent offer at least one arts discipline, Morrison said. He's hoping that mission is accomplished in the 2018-2019 school year.

"Here in New Jersey, the vast majority of our schools have music and visual art. Fewer have theater and even less have dance programs," Morrison said. "I believe that part of the problem is many of our schools may not be familiar with the state requirement."

Progress with arts education has been significant over the years, the research shows. A decade ago, more than 77,000 students had no access. Today, the number is around 9,100.

Overall participation in the arts among students has increased by 11 percent since 2011. And during that time, per-pupil arts spending rose by 12 percent in elementary and middle schools and 15 percent in high schools.

“This report shows how educators and communities are working hard to provide all students access to arts education,” said New Jersey Education Commissioner Kimberley Harrington in a news release. “By working to engage all students with high-quality arts education across the state, we are giving our students more opportunities to use their voice of creativity and providing them skills that will help them be successful beyond high school.”

A Rutgers-Eagleton poll released in September found 9-in-10 New Jerseyans believe the arts are an important part of school curriculum. At least half said arts education is just as important as language arts, science, social studies, computer science, world languages, and health and physical education.

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