Public Citizen to Parkland School District: School Bus Advertising Is the Wrong Way to Raise Revenue

Feb. 29, 2012 

Public Citizen to Parkland School District: School Bus Advertising Is the Wrong Way to Raise Revenue

Letter Describes Advertising’s Harmful Effects on Developing Children

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Parkland School District, located in Allentown, Pa., should not move forward with plans to sell advertising on the interior of their school buses, Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert said in a letter sent today to the Parkland Board of School Directors.

Pursuing this path would raise little revenue and would undermine Parkland School District’s educational and child development mission, the letter said. The advertisements would bring only miniscule financial benefits; school officials anticipate generating $150,000 a year in advertising revenue, amounting to 0.1 percent of Parkland’s annual budget. Moreover, a private company, Factory Advertising, would act as a middleman between the district and advertisers, taking a quarter of ad revenues.

This problem isn’t unique to Parkland schools. Public Citizen’s report – “School Commercialism: High Costs, Low Revenues,” released earlier this month – shows that in some of the largest districts in the country, school advertising schemes generate less than 0.05 percent of the districts’ annual budgets.

“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.”

The Parkland Board of School Directors has adopted guidelines that prohibit advertising that promotes alcohol, drugs and violence or that advocates on behalf of religion or political causes. Yet even such guidelines cannot ensure that students will be protected. The guidelines do not prevent advertising for a wide range of items that are potentially harmful to children, including junk food and sexualized media.

Weighed 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 Parkland schools.

David Parsons, the father of a fourth-grader in the Parkland School District, is a 30-year veteran of the advertising industry.

“My own research on direct advertising to children without parental controls leads to a grave concern for children under 12,” Parsons said. “Advertising in school buses would limit parents’ ability to help educate our children about the persuasive nature of advertising. When we are at home watching TV or listening to the radio, we can turn off the TV or radio. We can monitor Internet activity. Now we can’t control what’s being placed in front of them as they drive to school.”

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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