Statement of CPB President & CEO Before US Senate Committee on Appropriations

Mar 28, 2012

FY 2013 Statement of Patricia Harrison, President and CEO, Corporation for Public Broadcasting

Presented before the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, United States Senate Committee on Appropriations

Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for allowing me to submit this testimony on behalf of our country’s public media service – public television and public radio, on-air, online and in your community.

American public media serves our citizens with quality and trusted content that educates, informs and inspires. This trusted noncommercial service is available for free to all Americans of all backgrounds, race and ethnicities, and to underserved and unserved audiences in rural and urban communities throughout the country. 

We are a system comprising approximately 1,300 locally owned and operated public radio and television stations connected to communities across the country.  Together, these stations ensure that 99% of the American people have access to quality educational and informational services that may not otherwise be available to them.  Public media stations work for, and are accountable to, the people in the communities they serve.  That connection is important as stations acquire national programming and produce local content and services based on the needs of their respective communities. 

By design of the Public Broadcasting Act, the federal investment in this service, administered by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), is the foundation on which the public broadcasting system operates.  Over 95% of the federal investment goes to support public media’s service to the American people.  Approximately 70% of CPB funding goes directly to local stations, and approximately 19% of CPB funding is directed to the production or acquisition of programming, making CPB the largest single funder of content – for children’s programming like Sesame Street andThe Electric Company; for public affairs programming like PBS NewsHour,Morning Edition and Frontline; and for programming like NatureNova,American Experience, Native American News, StoryCorps and the films of Ken Burns. 

CPB also supports the creation of programming for radio, television, and digital media.  The statute ensures diversity in this programming by requiring CPB to fund independent and minority producers.  CPB fulfills these obligations by funding the Independent Television Service, the five Minority Consortia in television (which represent African American, Latino, Asian American, Native American, and Pacific Islander producers) and numerous minority stations in radio. 

Stations use CPB funding for local operations and to produce and acquire programming, which allows them to raise additional operational funds from corporations, foundations, state and local governments and from individual contributions, which are the largest source of non-CPB funding for public media.  On average, every federal dollar invested in CPB is leveraged by stations to raise six dollars locally.  This successful public-private partnership is uniquely entrepreneurial and uniquely American.  Though models vary, funding for other countries’ public broadcasting systems comes almost exclusively from their governments, from licensing fees or from dedicated taxes.  At $1.39 per American, the cost of our country’s service is proportionally small compared to other developed nations.   

And for this investment Americans have a safe place to educate their children with unmatched noncommercial educational programming that is proven to prepare children to learn.  For this investment, Americans have access to quality news and public affairs programming and information that is trusted and treats the audience as citizens, not consumers.  For this investment, Americans can access lifelong educational programming about science, nature and history that is otherwise not supported in the commercial marketplace.  And for this investment, Americans have a valuable public service that reflects our country, contributes to our civil society and is accountable to the citizens we serve. 


CPB’s mission is to strengthen and advance public media’s service to the American people.  We are a non-profit private corporation, and we serve as the steward of the taxpayer’s investment in this service.  Although our funding is distributed through a statutory formula, under which we can only use five percent for administrative expenses, we work every day to ensure that the taxpayers’ money is wisely invested in stations and programs that contribute to our country and serve our citizens.  Over the past few years, we have instituted policies and procedures to make us even more accountable and transparent to the taxpayers who fund us.  In this respect, CPB acts as a guardian of the mission and purposes for which public broadcasting was established.

For the past three years, CPB has strategically focused our investments on the “Three D’s” – Digital, Diversity, and Dialogue.  This refers to our support for innovation on digital platforms, extending public media’s reach and service over multiple platforms; content that is for, by and about diverse people; and services that foster dialogue and a deeper engagement between the American people and the public service media organizations that serve them.

One example of a CPB investment that embodies each of the Three D’s is our education investment.  In the words of our statute, “[I]t is in the public interest to encourage ...the use of [public] media for instructional, educational, and cultural purposes.”  For over 40 years, public broadcasting stations have made a robust and vital contribution to education, with proven results in improving reading and math skills for the nation’s youngest children, particularly those furthest behind.  We have built on our success in early education and launched a new national initiative to help communities tackle the high school dropout crisis called, “American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen.” 

Every year, approximately one million kids drop out of high school, a tragedy for these kids and a travesty for our country.  The dropout epidemic is costing our nation more than $100 billion annually in lost wages and taxes, plus increased social costs due to crime and healthcare. American Graduate is a significant public media effort to help improve our nation’s high school graduation rates and, through this initiative, public media, both nationally and locally, is bringing our collective resources to bear to address the dropout epidemic. 

Sixty-eight public media stations in key dropout epicenters across 30 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia are working directly with students, parents, teachers, mentors, volunteers and business leaders to lower the dropout rate in their communities by communicating the need and highlighting solutions.  Stations are using broadcast, web and mobile platforms to create content that helps to tell this story in a compelling way.  Some of the activities include: producing public service announcements to improve understanding about dropout statistics and their implications, hosting teacher town hall meetings and community forums on strategies to decrease dropout rates in their communities, and local news and public affairs reporting to deepen the understanding of the scope of the problem and the unique community challenges and solutions. 

This is a united effort across the country and across public media.  In addition to local action by stations in their communities, there has been significant work done by national producers to increase understanding of the crisis, including work by PBS NewsHour, Tavis Smiley, StoryCorps, NPR, Roadtrip NationIdeas in Action with Jim Glassman and others.  

Through strategic investments, CPB has also fueled innovation in the system.  In New York and Florida, stations are coming together to consolidate engineering and master control operations, which allows them to save money, operate more efficiently and spend more time and resources on content and services for their communities.  Stations throughout the country are looking to replicate this model, which could save stations millions over several years. 

CPB has invested in seven regional local journalism centers, which are clusters of public television and radio stations who have come together to increase the quality and capacity of their local reporting on critically important topics to their communities and regions.  Whether it is border issues in the Southwest, agribusiness issues in the Heartland, economic revitalization in upstate New York or education issues in the South, these station collaborations are creating and sharing original content that is vital to the communities they serve. 

The focus on diversity is deeply embedded in CPB’s culture and increased service to diverse audiences is a consideration in virtually every investment CPB makes.  In 2009, we created the Diversity and Innovation fund, which is dedicated to supporting the creation of content of interest and service to diverse communities.  The D&I fund supports documentaries such as the award-winning Freedom Riders and Slavery By Another Name, expanded news and public affairs programming for diverse communities, translation services for news and election programming, a new radio service in Los Angeles and the fulltime multicast World Channel, designed to attract a diverse audience. 

CPB’s Request for Appropriations

Public media stations continue to evolve, both operationally and in the ways they serve their communities.  Stations are committed to reaching viewers and listeners on whatever platform they use – from smart phones to tablets to radios to television sets.  While stations can and will continue to adapt and operate in the digital age, they cannot provide service on evolving platforms without sufficient support.  As the Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan noted, “Today, public media is at a crossroads…[it] must continue expanding beyond its original broadcast-based mission to form the core of a broader new public media network that better serves the new multi-platform information needs of America.  To achieve these important expansions, public media will require additional funding.”

CPB Base Appropriation (FY 2015): CPB requests a $445 million advance appropriation for FY 2015, to be spent in accordance with the Public Broadcasting Act’s funding formula.  The two-year advance appropriation for public broadcasting, in place since 1976, is the most important part of the “firewall” that Congress constructed between federal funding and the programs that appear on public television and radio.  President Gerald Ford, who initially proposed a five-year advance appropriation for CPB, said it best when he said that advance funding “is a constructive approach to the sensitive relationship between federal funding and freedom of expression.  It would eliminate the scrutiny of programming that could be associated with the normal budgetary and appropriations processes of the government.”

Our FY 2015 request, which is the same level as the Administration’s request for CPB, balances the fiscal reality facing our nation with the stark fact that stations are struggling to provide service to their communities in the face of shrinking non-federal revenues – a $380 million, or 16 percent, drop between FY 2008 and 2010 alone.  Even with these challenges, public broadcasting contributes to American society in many ways that are worthy of greater federal investment.  In FY 2015, CPB will continue to support a range of programming and initiatives through which stations provide a valuable and trusted service to millions of Americans.

Ready To Learn (FY 2013): CPB requests that the U.S. Department of Education’s Ready To Learn (RTL) program be funded at $27.3 million, the same level as FY 2012.  Mr. Chairman, education is at the heart of public media.  RTL is a partnership between the Department, CPB, PBS and local public television stations that leverages the power of digital television technology, the Internet, gaming platforms and other media to help millions of young children learn the reading and math skills they need to succeed in school.  The partnership’s work over the past few years has demonstrably increased reading scores particularly among low-income children and has erased the performance gap between children from low-income households and their more affluent peers.  An appropriation of $27.3 million in FY 2013 will enable RTL to develop tools to improve children’s performance in math as well as reading and bring on-the-ground, station-convened early learning activities to more communities.

Mr. Chairman, all told, the federal contribution to public media through CPB amounts to $1.39 per American per year and the returns for taxpayers are exponential.  Whether in-depth news and public affairs programming on the local, state, national and international level; unmatched, commercial-free children’s programming; formal and informal educational instruction for all ages; or inspiring arts and cultural content; we in America’s public media system are working every day to serve our citizens.

In last year’s final appropriations legislation, CPB was instructed to report to Congress about alternative sources of funding for public media.  We are actively looking at that question and will report back to the subcommittee prior to our deadline on June 20th.

Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you again for allowing CPB to submit this testimony.  On behalf of the public broadcasting community, including the stations in your states and those they serve, we sincerely appreciate your support.