Oklahoma governor seeks to phase out OETA, citing programming that ‘overly sexualizes’ children

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Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt speaks to reporters Friday about his veto of an extension of OETA's authority.

The governor of Oklahoma vetoed a bill last week to renew authorization for the Oklahoma Educational Television Authority, putting the public television station’s future in jeopardy.

Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt vetoed a House bill April 26 that would have extended OETA’s authority until July 1, 2026, in accordance with the Oklahoma Sunset Law. The bill had received unanimous support in the House and broad support in the Senate, where lawmakers voted 41 to 7 in favor. The sunset legislation is not an appropriations bill, and lawmakers could still provide funding for OETA for the next year.

If the government does not renew OETA’s authority, the station would have one additional year after its sunset date to wrap up operations. The state treasurer would transfer any leftover funds to the general revenue fund after the organization’s termination.

In his veto message, Stitt cited concerns about OETA’s “long-term strategic value,” the Oklahoman reported. He expanded on his views Friday during a weekly press availability, calling OETA “an outdated system.”

“It may have had its place in 1957,” Stitt said. “Why are we spending taxpayer dollars to prop up the OETA? It makes no sense to me. And when you further look at the programming … I don’t think Oklahomans want to use their tax dollars to indoctrinate kids. And some of the stuff that they’re showing, it just overly sexualizes our kids. There’s parents defend[ing] child transition on PBS that’s being played, there’s elevating LGBTQIA2S+ voices. … If you want to watch that, that’s fine, but why am I using taxpayer dollars to prop that up? I don’t think we need that.”

Stitt’s office did not respond to requests for comment. OETA declined to comment. Earlier this week, House Rep. Cyndi Munson, the Democratic minority leader, called for the House and Senate to overturn Stitt’s veto.

‘I’m a capitalist’

Sen. Nathan Dahm echoed Stitt’s concerns over the station’s choice to highlight queer communities and include Pride Month programming. Like Stitt, Dahm argued that the programming “indoctrinated” children and shouldn’t be viewed as educational.

“If they’re going to brand themselves as educational television, they should stick to that. If they want to use private funds to push those things that a lot of Oklahomans disagree with, then they can do it with private funds,” Dahm said in an interview with Current. “But they shouldn’t be subsidized by taxpayers for supporting things that the majority of Oklahomans don’t support and don’t want being promoted to their children.”

Dahm said his primary point of contention, however, lies with a television station receiving any taxpayer funds at all.

“I’m a capitalist. I disagree with a lot of the cronyism, special deal carve-outs that are done for corporations or other entities as well,” he said. “If they have the best product to offer to the market or a unique product to offer to the market, then they should be able to do that with private funds.”

The veto is not the first legislative attack on OETA. Over the last decade, lawmakers have introduced legislation seeking to reduce or even zero out public funding for the network.

Oklahoma Rep. Leslie Osborn introduced a bill in 2011 that would have phased out state aid to OETA over the course of five years. Osborn cited the state’s revenue shortfalls as the reason for the proposed cuts.

The following year, two state senators proposed ending state funding completely for OETA. The same year, OETA dodged another sunset after one senator changed his vote and supported the station’s authorization. Sen. Bill Brown noted at the time that while the legislation was not an appropriations bill, the act of sunsetting the station would mean OETA could not even raise private funds.

Aside from the ideological opposition to OETA’s mission, larger deficits across the state have trickled down. By 2016, state funding for the station had dropped by 45% over the previous eight years.

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