Public Citizen to Poway, Calif., Schools: Advertising on School Sites Is the Wrong Way to Raise Revenue

May 14, 2012  

Public Citizen to Poway, Calif., Schools: Advertising on School Sites Is the Wrong Way to Raise Revenue

Letter Describes Advertising’s Harmful Effects on Developing Children

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Poway Unified School District, located in Poway, Calif., should not move forward with plans to sell advertising on school sites and employees’ uniforms, nor sell students’ and parents’ email addresses to advertisers, Public Citizen’s Commercial Alert said in a letter sent today to president of Poway’s Board of Education.

Pursuing this path would raise little revenue and would undermine Poway Unified School District’s educational and child development mission, and would violate families’ privacy, Public Citizen said. The advertisements would bring only minuscule financial benefits. Poway schools also are considering selling advertising on its bus drivers’ clothing.

School officials anticipate generating $350,000 per year in advertising revenue, amounting to only 0.15 percent of Irving’s annual budget. However, even this relatively trivial amount of revenue is likely an overestimation, given how much revenue comparable school districts have been able to amass from similar programs. Public Citizen’s report – “School Commercialism: High Costs, Low Revenues,” released in February – 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 in schools 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 students can grow.”

Some advocates of in-school and school bus advertising believe that setting appropriate guidelines for these practices can curb potential harms. But more often than not, these guidelines offer virtually no protection to students.

Weighed against the harms of school commercialism, the financial benefits of on-site advertising are minuscule, Public Citizen maintains. Given the relatively insignificant revenues that school advertising is likely to bring to the district’s schools, the risks are not worth it for Poway schools.

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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.