Trump budget would devastate America’s public television stations

Trump budget would devastate America’s public television stations
© Getty Images

President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Republican threatens to push for Rosenstein impeachment unless he testifies Judge suggests Trump’s tweet about Stormy Daniels was ‘hyperbole’ not defamation Rosenstein faces Trump showdown MORE’s proposal to eliminate federal funding for public television rests on the erroneous assumption that public television can rely exclusively on private support.

Public television is primarily a local service, performed by 170 community, university and state licensees throughout America, pursuing essential missions of education, public safety and civic leadership for everyone — everywhere, every day, free of charge.

ADVERTISEMENT

Without the federal investment, this universal service would be impossible. (A GAO study commissioned by Congress said as much.) And the farther away from major cities public television goes, the more important federal funding becomes. In Alaska, where people, foundations and corporations are few and far between, federal funding represents about 80 percent of some public media stations’ budgets.

 

But even in more heavily populated areas, public television provides public services that private funding cannot sustain.

We educate the 54 percent of 3- and 4-year-olds who don’t attend preschool. We’ve helped more than 90 million kids get ready to learn in school and succeed in life, and they’re not just watching television.

Through our local stations, we work with parents, teachers, caregivers, Head Start professionals and others to provide free educational resources to help children get the most out of the best educational programming in the country — and we’ve helped close the achievement gap between children from low-income families and their more affluent peers.

Local stations are also full partners in PBS LearningMedia, helping almost 2 million educators and 40 million K-12 students (including tens of thousands of homeschoolers) benefit from 100,000 curriculum-aligned, interactive digital learning objects adapted from the best of public television programming plus material from the Library of Congress, National Archives, NASA and other excellent sources.

And our commitment to lifelong learning extends to virtual high schools linking world-class scholars with students in rural America, the largest nonprofit GED program in the country, the American Graduate program that’s helped raise high school graduation rates to record levels, a growing workforce development initiative boasting 90 percent placements, and more.

Our work in public safety encompasses a strategic partnership with the Department of Homeland Security to promote public television stations’ datacasting capabilities to state and local emergency response agencies, sending large encrypted files of real-time video, audio, graphics and other data from command centers to front-line responders, saving time, property — and lives.

Our stations have committed 1 Megabit per second of their digital spectrum to support the FirstNet federal first responder network.

We’re the backbone of the Emergency Alert System through which the president can communicate with the American people in national emergencies.

And public television spectrum and infrastructure serve as critical components of the Wireless Emergency Alert system that sends cell subscribers geo-targeted text messages in the event of a local emergency.

Our mission of civic leadership equips the American people to fulfill their responsibilities as citizens of the world’s most important democracy. Local public television stations serve as the “C-SPAN” of state governments, host thousands of candidate debates in every election cycle at every level of the ballot, and produce thousands of hours of programming devoted to local public affairs, local history and local culture.

The federal investment in public broadcasting represents one-hundredth of 1 percent of the federal budget (about $1.35 per American per year). Surveys conducted by Linda Divall and Peter Hart have found that 76 percent of voters want this funding maintained or increased, and 83 percent of voters (including 70 percent who voted for President Trump) would tell their elected representatives to find other places to save money.

A Marketing and Research Resources survey out just this week reports that public television is America’s most trusted institution for the 15th year in a row, and 78 percent of Americans believe public television stations provide excellent value to their communities.

Federal funding remains the foundation for this remarkable record of public service, and we hope our representatives in Congress will continue to support the work their constituents value so highly.

Patrick Butler is president and CEO of America’s Public Television Stations. He is a former special assistant to Senate Majority Leader Howard H. Baker, Jr., speechwriter for President Ford, and senior vice president of The Washington Post Company, and was a founder of the Times Mirror Center for The People & The Press, now operating as the Pew Research Center.