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

Jan. 31, 2012

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

Letter Describes Advertising’s Harmful Effects on Developing Children

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Kentucky schools should not move forward with plans to sell advertising on school buses, Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert said in a letter sent today to members of the Kentucky Senate.

Pursuing this path would raise little revenue and undermine Kentucky Public Schools’ educational and child development mission, the letter said. The advertisements would bring only miniscule financial benefits; in other states where it already is 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.

“Children already are surrounded by near-constant advertising that promotes consumerism and commercial values,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “But the ubiquity of advertising is not a reason for allowing corporate naming rights and in-school advertising to persist; it is a reason children need a sanctuary from a world where everything seems to be for sale.”

Added Elizabeth Ben-Ishai, campaign coordinator for Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert project, “Advertising on school buses conveys market, rather than civic, values and impedes the ability of the education system to function as an open space where ideas are freely exchanged and the next generation of public-minded, conscientious and virtuous students can grow.”

Although the Kentucky House of Representatives recently passed House Bill 30, which would allow Kentucky school boards to sell advertising on school buses, the letter urges Kentucky senators to vote against this bill when it moves to the Senate. 

House Bill 30 prohibits alcohol, tobacco, and political or campaign advertisements on school buses but does not prevent advertising for a wide range of items that are potentially harmful to children, including junk foods and sexualized or violent media. Further, while the restrictions around tobacco, alcohol and political advertising certainly are important, the implementation of these restrictions may open up schools 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 it 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 Kentucky’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.