When Greg Milton wakes up in the morning, he goes to Cummings High School in Burlington to educate his students and fill his classroom with the sounds of music. But it hasn’t always been easy and enjoyable. 

“Instead of being wonderful musicians, I want them to be good people,” Milton said. “I really build the band program after four ds: discipline, dedication, design and determination. Once those kids get those four things, they can do anything, not just music.”

Milton’s band program receives a budget of $1,300 every academic year, which Milton said does not always cover all the things students need. Prior to the pandemic, Milton said they could share instruments and get by with not having enough for each person. 

When the pandemic hit, that all changed. Milton had to turn students away because they couldn’t provide them with the supplies they needed to succeed. 

So when the band found itself in need of new uniforms, which will cost around $60,000, the marching band decided to fundraise. It hosted a Battle of the Bands concert on April 9, inviting four local schools and universities to fill the gym with the sounds of drums.

With new school funding, Milton’s band now has enough instruments for each person, but the challenges have not gone away. 

“There’s been countless times when I went in my pocket and paid for kids’ shoes and parents just did not have. And I think that’s one of the realities of our current situation,” he said. “We claim to be the richest country in the world, but we still have kids going without.” 

In the Alamance-Burlington School System, funding for music education programs is funded about 120% percent less than athletics. This year’s budget indicated that athletics received $358,450 in funding, whereas music education received $88,595. Senior and member of the Cummings marching band Jasiah Thomas said he feels the weight of these numbers when he goes to school every day.

“I tell everybody this. You can tell it’s not basketball or football. And I don’t know if all schools do this, or majority schools do this, but you have a lot of schools that put their funding toward sports. They won’t even look at the band,” Thomas said. 

ABSS Vice Chair Patsy Simpson responded with, “Wow,” when she heard the budget Milton receives for the music program. 

Simpson said the school board looked at making a school designated for the arts, with the goal of making sure every student had a chance to be involved in programs like music. The proposal was denied. 

“Because of the push from the community, that did not happen,” Simpson said. “They were told that they will still have band programs throughout the district, which tells me that there is still going to be that funding gap.”

Despite these challenges, Milton continues to advocate for his program, one beat at a time. His marching band’s next performance will take place May 21.