Principals allocated slightly more funding to the arts last year, according to a new report from the Department of Education. But arts spending is still much lower than it was before citywide budget cuts two years ago.

The total school-based spending on arts last year was $316 million, up from $312 million in the 2009-2010 school year but down from $326 in 2008-2009. The tally is contained in the city’s 2010-2011 Arts in Schools Report, an annual collection of facts and figures that the DOE released today.

“This year’s report shows that thanks to the hard work and resourcefulness of our schools and cultural partners, we continue to make steady progress in offering arts instruction to more students,” Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in a statement.

Other notable data points:

  • Fifty-four percent of elementary schools provided instruction to all grades in four arts disciplines — theater, music, visual arts, and dance — up from 51 percent in 2010 and just 40 percent in 2009.
  • In middle and high schools, the percentage of students receiving instruction in all the disciplines is very low and fell slightly.
  • Three percent of high school graduates receive their diplomas without earning two arts credits, as the state requires.
  • About 20 percent of schools do not employ a single arts teacher, even for a part-time position.

Whether principals complete an arts survey is part of their performance evaluations, but schools and principals are not judged on the quality or depth of the arts programs they offer.

Arts advocates said they found much to be happy about in the report. But they said the report documents once again that the city is a long way from offering ideal arts educations to all of its students.

“While we are encouraged by this increase — especially as schools are facing severe budget decreases — the fact that 46 percent of elementary schools are not providing what students are promised in state education law clearly demonstrates there is still much work to be done to ensure all public elementary school students receive equal access to quality instruction in the arts,” said Lori Sherman, acting executive director of the nonprofit Center for Arts Education, in a statement.

Sherman also noted that the growth in the number of schools far outstripped the tiny increase in the number of arts teachers, meaning that more students are likely without arts instructors.

In an uncertain budget climate, the status of the arts is all but assured — a reality that has arts advocates nervous. Earlier this month, after some arts administrators were relocated from the DOE’s headquarters at Tweed Courthouse to a Gramercy office building, CAE’s director of research and policy, Doug Israel, said he worried about the move’s implications.

“It definitely sends a message, even if not intentionally, to parents and students that the arts are somehow being downgraded,” he said. “Tweed serves as the locus for educational decision-making, collaboration, communication, and innovation. If the arts are not at that core, we have to question how high the arts are on the DOE’s priority list.”

DOE officials said the move consolidated arts office staff from across the city and did not reflect budget cuts to the department’s arts program.

The complete 2010-2011 Arts in Schools Report is below: