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.”
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