Your (Corporate) Name Goes Here: School Board Sell Outs are on the Rise

Our schools are for sale and the paltry profits they generate can’t even begin to compensate for the resulting damages.

Picture these scenarios:

– A Pennsylvania high school student stares intently at her classroom’s new interactive whiteboard, trying to absorb her math teacher’s lesson. But soon she’s distracted by the logo of the fast food restaurant that paid to have the whiteboard installed – she’s thinking about artery-clogging cheeseburgers and onion rings instead of algebra.

– Rushing to his locker between classes, a student in Minnesota is confronted with a wall of advertising. Instead of a place to store his books and notes, the student’s locker and those around  it have become prime marketing vehicles.

-Waiting for a school bus to pick up his young daughter, a New Jersey father is greeted by a large advertisement for a national pizza chain on the side of the bus.

Unfortunately, these scenes are all too real. In Upper Moreland, PA, fast food peddler Sonic paid to have newfangled whiteboards installed in classrooms, and school board members have just appro"school advertising"ved guidelines for corporations to purchase “naming rights” to the board’s properties. A Minnesota school board came close to approving ads on lockers and other school surfaces, but, thankfully, the proposal that would have covered 10% of available spaces in schools with sales pitches was recently quashed. And New Jersey is only the most recent of seven states to allow advertising on school buses. In fact, many other states and localities are considering selling educational space to corporations to pay for what public dollars ought to fund. From school bus ads in Guam and Philadelphia to naming rights in Ambridge, PA, and Gloucester, MA, to stadium ads in Guildford County, NC, to school website ads in Providence, RI, school administrators desperate for funds are ready to put our kids’ education up for sale.

Selling out shouldn’t be an option, regardless of the financial challenges school boards may face. Corporations already dominate our democracy, shape our popular culture, and weave their way into our homes. Do we really want them to overtake our education system – a crucial space where society shapes future citizens? Once they graduate from corporate sponsored classrooms, will today’s children become tomorrow’s democratic citizens – or will they be ready-made pawns available to serve commercial interests?

Although a tough economy may make these apparent lapses in integrity seem understandable, the fact of the matter is that school advertising schemes rarely bring in enough cash to struggling school boards to make them worthwhile. In Minnesota, where the Centennial School Board had to cut $3.6 billion (with more cuts likely on the way) from its budget, school locker ads were expected to bring in $180,000. That’s a fraction of one percent of the budget shortfall! The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood points to further examples of the negligible economic benefits of school advertising. In Colorado, ads on 103 buses in Thompson School District generated a mere $.20 per student to total $3000. In Ypsilanti, Michigan, miniscule profits from school bus ads brought the program to an end. Yet, despite the evidence to the contrary, those corporations seeking to profit off of the underfunding of our education system manage to convince unthinking school boards to buy into school commercialization.

As schools across the country face intensifying budget challenges, media outlets are awash in reports of school districts turning to advertising in schools as a means of increasing revenues. Commercial Alert, a project of Public Citizen that seeks to curb the spread of commercialism, has been tracking these developments across the country.  Check out the site for daily news updates and follow our Twitter feed to stay on top of these disturbing trends. To take action in your state, be sure to also visit The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood’s page.