Guest Blog (Dr. James Utterback): OETA is vital to the public education mission of Oklahoma

James W. Utterback, Ph.D. is President of Seminole State College and Chair of the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority Board. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions of OETA or any other group or business.

In his acceptance of the Republican Presidential nomination in 1880, James A. Garfield stated that, “Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained.”  The Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA) plays a vital role in enhancing the public education mission of our state.

As Chairman of the Board for OETA, it has been exciting to witness over 24,000 Oklahoma families step forward to donate in excess of $2 million annually to support Oklahoma’s only statewide public television network.  An additional $1.5 million is donated annually by Oklahoma foundations and corporations. In spite of such overwhelming grassroots support, a small group of Oklahoma Legislators are calling for the elimination of funding for OETA.  As an educator and a concerned citizen who cares deeply about the future of our state, I believe this action would be reckless and irresponsible.

The Oklahoma Educational Television Authority is a valuable resource that provides tremendous educational benefits to the children of Oklahoma and cultural and informational experiences for all ages.  Not only have many of our children learned their ABCs with help from Sesame Street’s Big Bird, but they also have learned values and ethics from public television children’s programming.  Similarly, students in classrooms all across our state are inspired and motivated every day about science and nature by watching NOVA.  OETA also provides Oklahomans the opportunity to experience world-renowned musical and theatrical performances through “front row” seats at Great Performances, Live from the Met and Masterpiece Theatre.  Additionally, the citizens of Oklahoma benefit from OETA providing the only statewide news network – delivering unparalleled coverage of political, cultural, and entertainment events and activities.  OETA is the only media outlet to have the capability to transmit the culture of Oklahoma all across this state.  It is also the only means of communication that can simultaneously reach virtually every Oklahoman with statewide emergency information.

Recently, OETA has extended its reach into Oklahoma communities adding diverse outreach initiatives to complement programming.  Highlights include Centennial productions, World War II and Native American story collections, and literacy initiatives.

Our public television authority is one of only 14 states that have statewide licenses to operate.  It receives less state funding per capita than all but one of these 14 networks.  Currently, only 39 percent of its funding comes from the state.  This year, citizens of Oklahoma are served with public television for less than $1.02 per capita in state funds.  By comparison, citizens of Nebraska pay $5.73 per capita for public television access.

The value of OETA in meeting Oklahoma’s educational mission cannot be overstated and is in many ways immeasurable.  As Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote about the now famous decision of Brown V. Board of Education of Topeka, “Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local government.”

What a travesty it would be to deprive the 1.8 million weekly viewers of our Oklahoma network access to the many benefits of public television simply to save roughly 0.06 percent of the state budget.  It is imperative that we all speak out to help save funding for OETA.  As the Reverend Martin Luther King once said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

The opinions stated above are not necessarily those of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. This blog is a venue to help promote the discussion of ideas from various points of view and we invite your comments and contributions. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.


Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

5 thoughts on “Guest Blog (Dr. James Utterback): OETA is vital to the public education mission of Oklahoma

  1. Dr. Utterback is spot on in identifying the important role public televisioon plays in offering education to all viewers. OETA helps fulfill America’s promise of free education to all, not just those lucky to have the time and money to attend college. OETA also promotes Oklahoma and its rich heritage. Additionally, public television bridges generations. In my home, it is the one channel that my entire family can sit down to watch, from my 9-yr-old niece to my 75-yr-old father. We all find common interests that bring us together at the same time, whether it be a Ken Burns’ documentary, a NOVA special on how the brain works, or the latest Hercule Poirot mystery on Sunday nights.

    Reducing funding to OETA would impact Oklahoma in immeasurable ways – all of them negative. We must be vigilant and protect this wonderful resource that has provided so much to so many.

  2. Amen. To both Dr. Utterback’s essay and Kelli McBride’s comments. OETA really does a magnificent job of contributing to America’s promise of free education for all. Reducing OETA’s level of state funding, however, seems to be the order of the day for our legislative agents. It’s simply the wrong thing to do today. Private contributors can step up and reduce some of the impact. But we must make sure that our legislative agents understand the importance of OETA as an educational vehicle. And that requires more than just a minimal state financial commitment.

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