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Senate Approves Restored Noncom Funding

After all the threatened cuts and protests, public broadcasting emerged from the appropriations process intact.

The Senate last week passed the conference report on noncom appropriations that left intact forward-funding for CPB and 2006 funding levels at $400 million for CPB; $30 million for interconnection funding, $24.5 million for the Ready To Learn kids TV initiative, and $11 million for the complementary Ready to Teach program.

The House has already approved the budget.

Although the funds are still subject to a 1%-2% across-the-board cut, points out a pleased Association of Public Television Stations, that is nothing like the cuts that could have been imposed.

Back in June, the House Appropriations Committee cut the CPB budget from $400 million to $300 million and zeroed out funding for the Department of Education-funded Ready to Learn children's TV initiative and funding for technical improvements. It also threatened to no longer forward-fund the noncom service.

Republican legislators had argued that PBS fund-raisers could just raise it up a notch to make up the difference in what would be a 4% cut in their total budget (they only get 15% of their money from the feds), though a 22% cut in the federal allotment. But since the Bush administration iteslf had only called for a slight cut to $390 million, the move was seen as political payback for a service many Hill Republicans see as a liberal thorn in their side.

That Republican sentiment was galvanized by the flap over Postcards From Buster. The kids show, then produced with Department of Education money, featured a lesbian couple in one episode, sparking protests from some of those Hill Republicans and, eventually, to the move to zero out its funding.

The cuts were eventually rescinded after protests from the other side of the aisle, including such big names as Senator Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who led a public protest to battle the cuts.

While the Ready to Learn funds were restored, Buster will no longer get any money, with that program now geared to curriculum-based early reading education, particularly in poorer urban areas.