Statement by CEO Pat Harrison Before the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations

Mar 21, 2014

Washington, D.C. (March 21, 2014) – Chairman Harkin and distinguished members of the subcommittee, thank you for allowing me to submit this testimony on behalf of America's public media service—public television and public radio—on-air, online and in the community. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) requests level funding of $445 million for Fiscal Year 2017 and $27.3 million for the Department of Education's Ready To Learn program in Fiscal Year 2015.

Forty-six years after passage of the Public Broadcasting Act, this uniquely American public-private partnership is keeping its promise to the American people by providing a safe place where children can learn on-air and online; providing high-quality educational content for teachers in the classroom and children schooled at home; providing reliable and trusted news and information; and providing emergency alert services. Either by looking at each station individually or public media as a whole, this public-private partnership is making a big difference in the lives of individuals and communities.

Today we are a system that comprises more than 1,400 locally owned and locally operated public radio and television stations serving rural and urban communities throughout the country. More than 98% of the American people turn to American public media for high quality content that educates, informs, inspires and entertains. Public media's commitment to early and lifelong learning, available to all citizens, helps strengthen our civil society and our democracy. Our trusted, noncommercial services available for free to all Americans is especially important to those living in rural communities where the local public media station is sometimes the only source of broadcast news, information and educational programming.

I understand that this committee is faced with the challenging task of allocating scarce federal resources to a number of organizations, all doing worthy and important work. The financial support for the public broadcasting system that is derived from the federal appropriation is the essential investment keeping public media free and commercial free for all Americans. Former President Ronald Reagan said, “government should provide the spark and the private sector should do the rest.” And what stations do, with the spark of federal dollars that amounts to approximately 10 to 15 percent of a stations' budget, results in a uniquely entrepreneurial and American public media system with a track record of proven benefits delivered through stations to the American people.

The federal investment through CPB is the foundation on which the entire system is built. These critical funds leverage vital investments from other sources. Undermining this foundation would put the entire structure in jeopardy. While private donations and existing funding sources can help defray considerable costs for the much-honored programs of public television and radio—nonfederal funding represents five of every six dollars invested annually in public broadcasting—the federal investment is indispensable to sustaining the operations of public broadcasting stations, the public service mission they pursue, local community-based accountability, and the universal service to which the Public Broadcasting Act aspires.

Further, it is this initial investment in public media that keeps it commercial free and available to all Americans for free. However, smaller stations serving rural, minority and other underserved communities are hard pressed to raise six times the federal appropriation, which can represent as much as 40 percent of their budget.

Public media's contribution to education—from early childhood through adult learning—is well documented. We are America's largest classroom, with proven content available to all children, including those who cannot afford preschool. Our content is repeatedly regarded as “most trusted” by parents, caregivers and teachers.

CPB's work with the Department of Education's Ready To Learn program is an excellent example of how public media brings together high-quality educational content with on-the-ground work in local communities. We also invest in research that demonstrates and promotes the effectiveness of this content in formal and informal educational settings.

We talk a lot about content that matters and engagement that counts, further defining public media from commercial media. An example of this is CPB's “American Graduate: Let's Make it Happen” Initiative, which tells the story behind the statistic of one million American young people failing to graduate every year from high school. Our stations told the stories and communities throughout the country responded. More than 75 public media stations located in 33 states with at-risk communities are working with more than 1000 national and community-based partners to bring together diverse stakeholders and community organizations; filling gaps in information, resources and solutions; sharing best practices for teacher training and student engagement; creating local programming around the dropout issue unique to their communities, and leveraging digital media and technology to engage students in an effort to keep them on the path to graduation. Those numbers are now declining because what our stations do, counts. But American Graduate is just one example of how public media stations are using their spectrum for the public good.

Building on our education commitment, CPB recently announced that it will expand on these successful models to bring meaningful impact and change to more communities at risk. Through the recently created $20 million American Graduate/PBS KIDS Fund, CPB and PBS will invest in the development of new tools to help parents better prepare their children ages 2 – 8 for educational success, to support teacher development, and to engage middle and high school youth to improve learning.

Public media is utilizing today's technology to provide content of value to millions of citizens who trust us to deliver content that matters and is relevant to their lives today. CPB strategically focuses investments through the lens of what we refer to as the “Three D's” —Digital, Diversity and Dialogue. This refers to support for innovation on digital platforms, extending public media's reach and service over multiple platforms; content that is for, by and about Americans of all backgrounds; and services that foster dialogue between the American people and the public service media organizations that serve them. CPB funding enables stations to provide content of consequence and to keep faith with the visions of political, educational, philanthropic and community leaders who have seen in public broadcasting the potential to strengthen our nation by promoting lifelong learning and an informed citizenry.

As the steward of these important taxpayer dollars, CPB ensures that 95 cents of every dollar received goes to support local stations and the programs and services they offer to their communities; no more than five cents of every dollar goes to the administration of funding programs and overhead.

The Public Broadcasting Act ensures diversity in this programming by requiring CPB to fund independent and minority producers. CPB fulfills this obligation, in part, by funding the Independent Television Service, the five Minority Consortia entities in television (African American, Latino, Asian American, Native American and Pacific Islander), several public radio consortia (Latino Public Radio Consortia, African American Public Radio Stations, and Native Public Media) and numerous minority public radio stations. In addition, CPB, through its Diversity and Innovation fund, makes direct investments in the development of diverse primetime and children's broadcast programs as well as innovative digital content.

As newspapers across the country have scaled back their operations, public media has stepped into the void. Local stations have been working to fill the gap with creative ventures and partnerships, such as our seven multimedia local journalism centers (LJCs) that are providing their communities with much-needed local, regional and statewide coverage.

For an investment of approximately $1.35 per American per year, public media stations are able to train teachers and help educate America's children; provide in-depth journalism that informs citizens about issues in their neighborhoods, their country, and around the globe; make the arts accessible to all Americans; and provide emergency alert services for their communities.

CPB's FY 2017 request of $445 million balances the fiscal reality facing our nation with our statutory mandate to provide a valuable and trusted service to all Americans. Today, the challenges we face are more complex than ever and require new levels of thinking, innovation, and collaboration. Community organizations often work in isolation, shouldering the burden of solving societal problems. But public media is the essential link, uniquely poised to add real value. CPB's FY 2017 request will allow stations to enhance their role as a trusted source of information and as a convener, help communities understand issues, and mobilize them toward positive, sustainable outcomes.

Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, this is only part of the story of our public media system in America. Public media is a national treasure that is available and accessible to all Americans. Every day public media works to strengthen and advance our civil society. I thank you for allowing me to submit this testimony and urge you to consider our request for funding.