Public Citizen to California Senate: School Bus Advertising Is the Wrong Way to Raise Revenue

March 1, 2012 

Public Citizen to California Senate: School Bus Advertising Is the Wrong Way to Raise Revenue

Letter Describes Advertising’s Harmful Effects on Developing Children

WASHINGTON, D.C. – California senators should oppose a proposed bill that would allow school districts to sell advertising on school buses, Public Citizen said in a letter sent this week to members of the California Senate leadership.

Senate Bill 1295 would raise little revenue and undermine California public schools’ educational and child development mission, the letter said. The advertisements would bring only miniscule financial benefits; in other states where it is already permitted, school districts that adopt bus advertising programs have generated small revenues that barely offset the administrative cost and burden of putting these programs in place. Public Citizen’s recently released report, “School Commercialism: High Costs, Low Revenues,” highlights cases of large school districts that have been able to raise only a fraction of one percent of their budgets through such commercial advertising schemes.

“Education should empower students to think critically and independently. Students should be encouraged to form their own beliefs, to question established ideas and to develop intellectual curiosity,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “Marketing and advertising contravene these goals, conveying market rather than civic values.”

Added Elizabeth Ben-Ishai, campaign coordinator for Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert project, “SB 1295 leaves open the possibility for advertising that is inappropriate or harmful to children, including junk foods and sexualized or violent media. Corporations that sell harmful products to children will be among those most interested in targeting them by pursuing advertising opportunities.”

Even if there were restrictions on the type of permitted advertising, the implementation of these restrictions may open up the school district to potentially costly First Amendment challenges. As such, the advertising plans should be rejected outright, the letter said.

Advertising on school buses also raises a safety issue. The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services opposes advertising on school buses on the grounds that they may distract both bus drivers and other drivers on the road, endangering students.

Weighted against the harms of school commercialism, the financial benefits of school bus advertising are miniscule. Given the relatively insignificant revenues that bus advertising is likely to bring to the state’s schools, the risks are not worth it for California’s families.

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Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C. For more information, please visit www.citizen.org.