Gov. McDonnell’s Public Broadcasting Cuts Actually Strip Funding From Virginia’s Classrooms

On Tuesday night, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell announced that he was using his line-item veto power to cut $424,000 in funding state legislators had approved for public broadcasting. McDonnell wrote in his veto letter:

Such grants are not core services of government, and especially given the scarcity of resources during these difficult economic times, such grants ought to be eliminated. … I believe it to be an appropriate reduction given the discretionary nature of this funding and the realities which face us on the budgetary front. I am confident that the excellent work done by public television and radio will continue with generous contributions from the private sector.

The funding McDonnell eliminated with the veto doesn’t actually go towards developing television or radio programming. Rather, its for the Instructional Telecommunications Services contract with the public broadcasters, a program dedicated to developing and providing low-cost or free electronic educational materials for Virginia schools. When legislators agreed to an earlier round of public broadcasting cuts in February, they did so in exchange for an increase in educational broadcast funding. That’s the funding that McDonnell cut.

Bert Schmidt, the president of WHRO, a public broadcasting unit owned jointly by 18 school systems in the Hampton Roads area, told ThinkProgress that McDonnell’s strategy was in direct opposition to the governor’s own priorities on virtual learning. And Schmidt said the cuts could end up costing the state more money in the long run, if school systems have to turn to private education companies to develop high-quality programming as a replacement. Before the cuts, WHRO received $870,000 in state funding annually, and estimated that it saved those school districts $7.6 million each year by creating programming they share.

“We have 50,000 video elements that have been created to provide formal education,” he said. “We had a member of the Virginia House saying you can just do a Google search. If you’re teaching in a health class about breast cancer and you Google breast cancer, guess what you’re going to find…It’s insulting to teachers, it’s insulting to schools to think they’d allow teachers to do a Google search to meet students’ needs.”

And Schmidt says McDonnell’s framing of education cuts as an attack on public broadcasting is clearly aimed at the 2012 elections.

“We believe he will do the second phase, to completely defund us next year around the same time that some Republican candidate is going to be looking for a vice presidential candidate. He’ll be able to say he was able to quote, unquote, defund PBS, even though that’s not what’s happening,” Schmidt said. “He’s putting his political aspirations ahead of Virginia students.”