President Obama maintained level funding for CPB in his fiscal 2015 federal budget request, released Tuesday. But he recommended eliminating the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Digital program and consolidating Ready to Learn funding into other programs within the Department of Education, resulting in a mixed bag for pubcasters.
Obama recommended $445 million in federal funding for CPB for fiscal year 2017, the next year for determining funding requests. That would keep CPB appropriations level with the fiscal 2016 amount, approved by Congress in January as part of a government-wide omnibus spending package.
Elsewhere in the budget, Obama proposed zeroing out funding for the Rural Digital program, currently set at $2 million. The program provides grants to rural pubcasters to help them buy equipment for digital operations. Obama had proposed eliminating Rural Digital funding in last year's budget request, but the Senate restored the $2 million.
Ready to Learn, currently operating out of CPB but funded by the Department of Education, uses pubcasting’s programming and community outreach for local and national early-childhood education initiatives. Leaders in pubcasting fear that consolidating RTL into other Department of Education programs could result in reduced funding and resources.
Congress will take the President’s budget requests into subcommittee and full committee meetings between May and July, to be followed by floor votes. If deliberations go according to schedule, Congress will pass a final budget for fiscal 2015 by October. But lengthy disputes have prevented full budgetary measures from passing on schedule for the past several years.
Pat Butler, president of the Association of Public Television Stations, praised Obama’s call for level CPB funding in a statement but expressed disappointment in his other requests. Butler pledged that APTS would continue to push for “preserving Ready To Learn as a stand-alone service” and for restoring funding to the Rural Digital program.
During the Public Media Summit’s Capitol Hill Day Feb. 25, pubcasting representatives met with elected officials to ask for level CPB funding and an increase in Ready to Learn funding to its level before last year's automatic spending cuts. Representatives from rural stations also pushed for continued Rural Digital support.
Obama is also requesting level funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, at $146 million.