1 in 4 Americans don't know how to read and literacy rates are declining; but LeVar Burton is battling back

Last year The Reading Rainbow celebrated its 30th anniversary, but it was a bittersweet one.  The edutainment television show had recently entered the digital era, with its app for Apple, Inc.'s (AAPL) iOS, which held the top spot for educational app for some time.  But the TV show itself was very dead, having been cancelled in Nov. 2006 due to ongoing financial troubles of The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).

I. I Can Go Anywhere -- Even the Internet

But all is not lost.

The show's host LeVar Burton -- also famous for his roles as "Geordi" on Star Trek: The Next Generation and "Kunta Kinte" on the award-winning television drama Roots -- never gave up on the beloved show.  And the success of the iPad app inspired him to pursue a digital age solution -- a Kickstarter project to try to fund a broader return of Reading Rainbow content, with free educational apps for at least 1,5000 schools across America and an online library of interactive books and other educational content.

LeVar Burton makes a powerful case to the public, writing:

Right now, 1 out of every 4 children in America will grow up illiterate.

And: numerous studies reveal that children who can't read at grade level by the 4th grade are 400% more likely to drop out of high school.

And: as of 2011, America was the only free-market country where the current generation was less well educated than the previous.

The KickStarter just launched today, but has already rocketed to roughly $386,000 USD of its $1M USD goal.

Reading Rainbow
Backers are treated to some pretty sweet perks:
Reading Rainbow perks  (small)
Reading Rainbow school rewards
Reading Rainbow Rewards (Star Trek)
$10,000 USD is a lot to pony up to wear Geordi's visor, but it couldn't be for a better cause.  We're guessing there's a wealthy Star Trek fan or two, at least, who might jump at that opportunity.

II. Could a TV Return Be a Stretch Goal?

The only thing that's a bit of the bummer is that currently it has no plans to bring Reading Rainbow, the show itself, back on the air.  Reading Rainbow (TV) -- a show which won a Peabody, 26 Emmys, and over 270 other awards -- is today no longer broadcast on television in most regions, and is only available legally via Netflix, Inc.'s (NFLX) or, Inc.'s (AMZN) streaming services.

A faint glimmer of hope still exists for a comeback, though, as the Kickstarter page states:

And that’s just the beginning. The first million raised will help us get onto the web and into 1,500+ classrooms… but once we get there, we’ve got some big ideas for stretch goals!

Could that include a television return?

Back in 2006, LeVar Burton was battling to keep the show on, pursuing funding of $150,000-175,000 USD.  Initially a company named Educate, Inc. (known for its chain of Sylvan learning centers) offered to back the project for 52-episodes.  In its hey-day the show had 10 episodes a year, but more recently it had fallen to a rate of 5 per year.

Reading Rainbow

Educate, Inc. got cold feed at the last minute, and the rest is a sad point in history for many.  But the disclosed cost per episode gives up estimates of how much it would cost to make the show today:
  • 5 episodes: $1M USD
  • 10 epsiodes: $2M USD
Clearly, Mr. Burton is prioritizing apps and internet content over television and with good reason.  Many view television as a slowly dying medium.  But if funding keeps pouring in at its current wild pace, it might become feasible to consider funding 10-20 episodes -- enough for several seasons, even.

Don't get your hopes up, but either way it's a great blast from the past and one of the best Kickstarter causes to donate to, given the illiteracy crisis facing America today.

On a side note, maybe PBS should switch to modernized crowdsourced funding

While it's stepped up its digital funding efforts in recent years, much of its funding still comes from the tired old phone campaign.  While that may work for another decade or two, PBS needs to move quickly to modernize its fundraising efforts, or it will go the way of the dinosaur, even as its former show finds new ways to thrive in the digital age.

Sources: Kickstarter, Reddit

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