As the “land of opportunity,” our society clearly values economic mobility.  However, study after study has shown that intergenerational poverty is the norm.  Approximately 1/3 to 1/2 of individuals who are poor for a substantial portion of their childhood will be poor as adults.

One mechanism through which intergenerational poverty manifests itself is parental investment in education; parents who are wealthier are able to invest more in their children’s education.  Parental investment in education goes beyond paying money to send children to elite private schools.  These investments begin very early in a child’s life and also include things like paying for extracurricular activities and spending time educating children themselves.  Children whose parents are able to invest more in them will receive a better education, and are more likely to graduate high school, attend college, avoid unemployment, earn higher wages, etc.

Scholars and policymakers have characterized this as an alarming issue and have pondered the question of how to take steps towards leveling the playing field.  The issue is complicated, and there is no clear-cut solution.  However, one recent development has threatened to make outlooks even worse for children in low-income families.

During the first months of his presidency, Trump threatened to cut funding for the Consumer Public Broadcasting (CPB), which funds many Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) programs.  PBS provides numerous educational children’s broadcasts.  At first glance, educational television programming may seem unrelated to parental investment in child education.  However, educational television programming can act as a supplement to other forms of education.  Supplements to education are especially important for families who are unable to invest in their children’s education in other ways.  For instance, a 2004 study by Elizabeth A. Vandewater and David S. Bickham studying 2–5 year olds found that the magnitude of the relationship between educational media use and reading skills was equivalent to that of the quality of home learning environment and reading skills. Further, the effect of educational media use on reading skills was less prone to disruption due to family stressors than home learning.  Thus, to some extent, educational media is acting to help level the playing field.  More importantly, it is a relatively low-cost method of doing so.

While Trump’s plan was not executed, many have predicted that he may attempt to cut CPB’s funding again in the future.  This could potentially cripple PBS’s broadcasting abilities. Some have argued that this idea isn’t such a bad thing, suggesting that other private networks will pick up the slack and offer the same educational programming.  Some have even suggested that if PBS is no more, the same educational programming will be offered online for free. However, all of these predictions are pure speculation.

If high-cost private networks take over program offerings from PBS, children in low income families who cannot afford more expansive cable packages will be the ones who suffer.  The only way in which funding cuts to PBS will not have a negative impact is if educational programming continues to be offered at minimal to no cost.

Given the importance of economic mobility, we should not proceed with funding cuts to PBS without assurance that doing so will not negatively impact the futures of economically vulnerable children.

Erin Meyers





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