It’s ‘also a moment of great promise’

Funders express interest — if public TV promises something great

Never before have things seemed so grim” in public broadcasting, President Paula Kerger said at the start of the PBS Showcase conference in Baltimore May 12 [2009].

Though the economy has eroded funds for routine operations, PBS is pursuing grants for ambitious larger projects that are more exciting to funders and potentially more significant for the future.

“This is also a moment of great promise for public television,” Kerger said. Her executives reported that:

Optimism among Showcase attendees may have peaked when a Department of Education official virtually pleaded for an EDCAR grant request. Listeners gave a standing ovation to Jim Shelton, the assistant deputy secretary of education who heads the Office of Innovation and Improvement.

Shelton said he’s “one of millions and millions of parents” who entrust their kids to public TV. “There is no place I’d rather send my son than PBS,” he said of his 6-year-old. “PBS has the opportunity to be the most effective, trusted brand in education in the country — to be transformative for our children, young adults, and adults in transition in particular. It’s in your hands, and I trust you with it.”

He cited PBS Kids programs watched in the Shelton home. “I got to be a hero to my son,” he said, “because I met the man who made WordWorld.” And he reported that his son has picked up WordGirl’s very high standards of spoken English; the boy recently advised his mother: “Mom, you’re rambling!”

Speaking just before Shelton were Rob Lippincott, PBS senior v.p., education, and Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, a fan of systems such as EDCAR that present learning materials aligned with state teaching standards.

Shelton recapped their remarks: Lippincott had said public TV was building the EDCAR infrastructure to make the right learning media readily accessible to schools, and Wilhoit said schools want it.

“Demand and supply in the same room,” Shelton summarized, with possible funding near at hand.  Stations have a chance to respond to the schools’ demand with funding from federal stimulus grants to education under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

“The question becomes, will you rise to the occasion?” Shelton said.  

Congress is sending $95 billion in ARRA money to states, divvied up by formula and then spent by the states or their grantees, Lippincott explained in an interview. In addition, the feds will divide $5 billion among selected local school districts in competitive “Race to the Top” grants.

Another $650 million was appropriated for educational technology grants.

“Boy,” Shelton said, seemingly referring to projects like EDCAR, “I hope somebody sends me an application for something like that!”

Goal: Arts night debuts in 2010

Kerger, who raised millions in major gifts for the Metropolitan Opera and then for WNET, has repeatedly cited arts as a priority since she came to PBS three years ago. The arts got less attention under past PBS presidents, including her predecessor, Pat Mitchell, a former journalist who relished public affairs programming.

Of all the program genres that PBS has a hand (or toe) in, cultural programming hasn’t become the province of a major cable network. As PBS Chief Content Officer John Boland has said, “No one else in television is doing the arts anymore.”

To work up its proposal, PBS brought back retired arts programmer Glenn DuBose on a consulting basis. The initiative would include a primetime weekly arts night starting as soon as next year plus an online aggregation of on-demand arts content, Boland told Current. Already in hand is a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for the arts website.

Boland expects PBS will seek funding of $15 million over three years. The arts night would spotlight the variety of arts programming already aired by public TV—not only on Great Performances and American Masters but also one-off programs that get less attention. The project also would back production of programs to fill gaps among its offerings.

Web page originally posted Sept. 25, 2009
Copyright 2009 by Current LLC

James H. Shelton, Department of Education

"There's no place I'd rather send my son" than to PBS Kids, said Shelton, Ed Department exec at PBS Showcase Conference. (Current photo.)


PBS Foundation formally announces Ford grant for classroom media project EDCAR, now renamed the PBS Digital Learning Library, September 2009.

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