Revisiting Big Cuts for Big Bird

In his recently announced 2018 budget proposal, President Donald J. Trump outlined his plans to eliminate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), which funds the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), National Public Radio (NPR) and other member stations. “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again” will prioritize security-related expenditures by increasing the almost $600 billion Pentagon budget, which risks the collapse of those agencies, which serve as cornerstones for educational public media.

The proposal reflects a common characteristic of Republican administrations: a tendency to devalue art as a worthy source of federal funding. Former U.S. president George W. Bush advocated to cut CPB funding and former U.S. president Ronald Reagan targeted government subsidies for public broadcasting. Similarly, to address the financial demands of the Vietnam War, former U.S. president Richard Nixon proposed a $10 million cut to CPB’s federal grant established by former U.S. president Lyndon B. Johnson.

Such misjudgements encourage the faulty perception that the arts are a nonessential luxury, an extravagant waste of government funds. In reality, the arts play an integral role in public education. PBS initiatives, such as “Sesame Workshop,” increase access to arts-based educational platforms. In fact, Sesame Street was one of the first American children’s television shows devised with an educational framework. A 2015 paper from the University of Maryland found that preschoolers were 14 percent less likely to fall behind in school if they viewed Sesame Street broadcasts. Among all participant groups, students from low-income areas were most likely to demonstrate academic proficiency if they received broadcasts of the show. Since its founding, PBS has made reaching economically disadvantaged kids its mission, and does so more than any other children’s television network.

Sesame Street also pioneered social and emotional learning (SEL) programs. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL), SEL programs are grounded in developing self-awareness, self-management, responsible decision-making, relationship skills and social awareness. A meta-analysis performed by CASEL demonstrated that students had a percentile-point increase of 11 in academic achievement after participating in evidence-based SEL programs. Classroom behavior, manifested in stress-management techniques and student positivity, also improved.

Some budget proponents dismiss CPB as nothing more than elitist propaganda. However, the agency is an invaluable resource for parents to have at their disposal. Access to PBS’s programming overwhelmingly benefits American youth, who should be Trump’s primary concern when distributing federal funds.

Trystan Loustau is a high school junior from Jacksonville, Fla. 

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