By Dan Schiedel
Serious discussions are underway in the Oklahoma legislature about state funding for OETA.
Whether educating our children, preserving Oklahoma history or entertaining our seniors, OETA’s core services are only possible through a combination of continued state funding and private support. For every $1 received from the State of Oklahoma, OETA (which is locally owned and controlled) raises almost $3. OETA treats its audience as citizens, not consumers. Its value is proven: 1.8 million Oklahomans watch OETA each week, making it the most-watched public television network in America.
Oklahoma’s economic and social prosperity depends on a highly literate population. The 10 fastest-growing jobs in Oklahoma require workers with higher than average literacy skills.
On a national scale, increasing literacy also reduces crime and $73 billion per year of unnecessary health expenses attributed to poverty. Yet, nearly half of our children are not prepared to succeed when they enter kindergarten; children in poverty are at an even greater disadvantage, especially in literacy skills. Seventy percent of all 8th graders and 65 percent of all 12th-graders read below their grade level.
Not all children have access to the best schools or curricula, but 99 percent have access to OETA programs, mobile devices and the Internet. Today, OETA along with its numerous electronic applications is literally the state’s largest classroom; it is the number one media content source for preschool teachers and the undisputed leader in children’s programming. Almost 80 percent of children ages 2 - 11 watch these programs and thousands access OETA’s online resources every month. OETA is free, over the air and accessible to all – thanks in part to state funding.
Dozens of empirical studies and rigorous research have proven that OETA children’s programs result in dramatically improved literacy skills, narrowing the achievement gap between low-income and middle-income kids and increasing their desire to read and visit libraries and bookstores. The impact on preparing preschoolers for school, especially among low-income families, is nothing less than astounding.
Research also demonstrates that students achieve higher levels of academic success when involved with fine arts. Our own personal experiences prove the transformative power of the arts to bring people together, break down barriers, expand our horizons and help our spirits soar. Yet schools are cutting arts programs and commercial television has all but abandoned the arts. OETA, through many of our partnerships, is the only way many viewers, especially older, lower-income, ethnic minority and rural Oklahomans, can participate in arts events. OETA provides Oklahomans with local arts content through the award-winning series Gallery, which focuses on our state’s artists, performers and uniquely Oklahoma works of art.
OETA also provides a safe place on the dial for Oklahoma families, serving as a trusted guide in an increasingly cluttered media landscape. Consistently rated by the Roper Poll as the most trusted among nationally-known organizations (including Congress and the courts), public television funding stands second only to military funding in terms of excellence in value. In fact, nearly 80 percent of the general public supports continued funding.
The value derived from this public-private partnership of OETA unquestionably reaps enormous dividends – not only educational and cultural, but economic as well. Far from being a cultural luxury or a simple “TV station,” OETA is a proven statewide asset, an asset that must be preserved and protected in order to ensure a bright, healthy future for all Oklahomans.
Dan Schiedel is the executive director of Oklahoma Educational Television Authority.