Guest Commentary

KCPT CEO Kliff Kuehl: Public broadcasting enriches and unifies our culture

Meet Julia, the newest Muppet on Sesame Street and a resource for autism awareness

Sesame Street will welcome Julia, a Muppet with autism, to the show in April. The Sesame Workshop initiative "Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children" created Julia as a continued commitment to the autism community, supporting a miss
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Sesame Street will welcome Julia, a Muppet with autism, to the show in April. The Sesame Workshop initiative "Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children" created Julia as a continued commitment to the autism community, supporting a miss

In its proposed 2018 budget, the White House eliminates funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Naturally, this is disheartening to those of us at KCPT, Kansas City PBS, which relies in part on money from the 50-year-old, federally chartered nonprofit corporation.

That’s because we here at KCPT see signs of hope in public media. This small taxpayer investment (about $1.35 per person each year) pays real dividends. PBS affiliates use CPB funding to help create more than just high-quality television content — our shared mission. This funding expands access and opportunity — over the air, via broadcast, on digital and mobile platforms and in our community. Our mission is grounded in education, civic discourse, community service and even public safety.

The past five years have been exciting for KCPT as we have expanded services on many fronts. Together with more than 100 partner organizations, we continue to grow, from the launching of The Hale Center for Journalism (and our digital magazine and 90.9 the Bridge to the beginning of the KCPT 24/7 PBS Kids channel.

According to viewers, PBS Kids is the most trusted and safest place for children to watch television. Families see it as the best use of their kids’ screen time. In fact, a recent survey ranks PBS Kids first among children’s TV networks in promoting school readiness, and parents credit the program with helping their children show more positive behavior. In particular, it makes a significant difference for children in low-income communities who don’t have access to high-quality preschool services.

KCPT and PBS also provide more than 235,000 learning tools for teachers, parents and home-schoolers nationwide. From “Wild Kratts” to “Nature” to “Nova,” students and learners of all ages are exposed to the wonders of our world and the thrills of discovery that can open doors to careers in high-demand science, technology, engineering and math fields. Locally, KCPT’s education services provide hands-on mentoring to nearly 1,000 at-risk children. We reach 3,360 students in high-needs schools with literacy programming, and we have trained more than 300 teachers to integrate media into their lesson plans each year.

Public media also helps unify Americans around culture. It provides a front-row seat to arts specials like the behind-the-scenes making of “Hamilton” on Broadway and immersive experiences of our nation’s heritage through award-winning documentaries like Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War,” coming in September.

KCPT takes this national mission and brings it home to Kansas City.

In 2016, we featured more than 150 local arts stories through our digital magazine Flatland, The Bridge and KCPT’s local productions and specials. We have partnered with local veterans’ organizations to share the stories of how our nation’s wars have impacted our region’s citizens. And, at a time when funding for music and arts in our schools is being cut, KCPT and PBS provide much-needed access to all the arts.

Don’t just take my word for it. The American people believe in federal funding for public broadcasting, and it’s a bipartisan fact. One recent poll by the respected team of Hart Research (Democratic) and American Viewpoint (Republican) shows that more than 7 in 10 voters say public television is a good or excellent value for their tax dollars, on par with investments in highways, roads and bridges. Eighty-three percent of all voters would tell Congress to look elsewhere for budget cuts.

In the context of the federal budget, funding for public broadcasting is a drop in the bucket, representing 0.01 percent of total expenditures. Here in Kansas City, we’ve been honored with a national Emmy Award, regional Murrow Award for Flatland, more than 35 regional Emmy Awards, and numerous local and state journalism awards.

Stations like KCPT exist to educate, inspire and entertain our viewers. In an age of increasing polarization, public media provides rare common ground for people who come from different backgrounds and have varying perspectives. If our leaders in Washington want to serve their constituents, they will act to protect this fundamental American institution and strengthen it for future generations.

Kliff Kuehl is president and CEO of KCPT, Kansas City PBS.

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