Should schools sell advertising space and sponsorships to raise money?

Should cash-strapped schools turn to corporate advertising and sponsorships to raise money or do such deals take advantage of students, who are a captive audience for the sales pitches?

That debate is about to occur in Douglas County, which is considering  advertising deals and sponsorships with national firms, something that some districts have already done as a way to cope with budget crunches. Douglas is facing a $775 million fall in the local tax digest and nearly $70 million in austerity cuts in the last eight years.

Here is an excerpt from a good story in the Douglas County Sentinel on a report to the board on corporate ads by Douglas County Schools Financial Officer Kay Turner:

“This type of revenue is commonly done at the university level but is not something school districts have done as much,” Turner said. “We are now looking at partnerships with national companies, the Apples of the world. Larger school districts like Cobb County and Atlanta Public Schools have done this, and that is something we will be looking at as part of our research.”

Many different possibilities were put on the table during the presentation. For athletics, signage on scoreboards, fences, baseball fields, tennis courts, sides and backs of bleachers was discussed, as well as possible homecoming and sideline sponsorships, printed materials and T-shirt giveaways. For auditoriums, there may be signage on the stage, marquee, entrance or seat backs, as well as sponsorships for back-to-school orientations, T-shirt giveaways and logo rights on sound equipment or instruments. Cafeterias may have logos on the walls, trays, sneeze guards, tray liners, cups, napkins, food containers, floors and chairs and may also have healthy snack giveaways.

Turner said the district would be extremely cautious, especially when it comes to younger children in the district. “At the elementary level, it would be more like a back-to-school activity with a corporate sponsor to provide food. You may have a field trip with a corporate sponsor providing funding. At that level, it would be a different kind of funding. One thing we talked about was healthy snack giveaways. You may have a corporate sponsor, but we’re not talking about putting in Burger King ads. We will be very selective and won’t have ads all over the place; it would have to have a good focus.”

Some school board members, like District 4 representative Samuel Haskell, said they are okay with ads as long as unhealthy foods are not being promoted to kids. “I don’t want to see us putting lots of snack vending and soda vending machines, but if we can help companies advertise, I wouldn’t be against that,” said Haskell.

Haskell said he would not be opposed to ads for clothing companies or cell phones, pointing to the growing emphasis on technology the school system already has in place. “We already have bring-your-own technology at New Manchester High School. That could be a wonderful kind of competition.” Haskell was less keen on plastering company names on a school wall, saying that if the schools do pursue any logo advertising that it should be on a month-to-month basis and even then it should be at the high school level only.

During Monday’s presentation, District 1’s Mike Miller brought up the issue of political advertising, which is currently banned by school board policy. Miller said it can be an issue because of the First Amendment, which is another point the board will consider going forward.

“I look forward to this, with caution,” District 3 BOE member Janet Kelley said. “I don’t know if I foresee Mitt Romney or Barack Obama sponsoring local schools.”

Turner emphasized that the school system is very early in the process and will take extreme caution with any measures taken in the initiative. “If we had a vendor like HP wanting to donate funding for software it would be an additional tool for students… It’s more sponsorship than advertising and it would also be tied into the curriculum. We’ll be trying to enhance our instructional process, we’re not just looking for money or revenue at any cost, it’s revenue we can attain while helping our students.

The discussion in Douglas County has already prompted a letter from Public Citizen asking the Board of Education to keep a “commercial culture” out of its schools. Here is the letter from Robert Weissman, president of the consumer protection group, to Jeff Morris, the chair of the Douglas board.

Dear Mr. Morris,

Commercial Alert is a project of Public Citizen, a consumer protection organization based in Washington, D.C., with more than 225,000 members and supporters. We aim to keep commercial culture within its proper sphere, and to prevent it from exploiting children and subverting higher values of family, community, environmental integrity and democracy.

We understand that the Board of Education of the Douglas County School System is considering permitting commercial advertising on its properties; we write to urge the Board not to move forward with these plans. We understand that the financial pressures your school district currently faces make you eager to identify non-traditional sources of funding. We know your primary concern is to avoid shortchanging students as a result of budget cuts. However, subjecting children to even greater amounts of advertising is the wrong response. It will raise little revenue while undermining Douglas County’s educational and child development mission. Educational institutions should promote civic virtue and the public good, not commercial values.

As you know, childhood and adolescence are crucial periods for young pupils to develop their identities. Corporations exploit these developmental challenges, and convey through sophisticated marketing strategies that children should build their identities and judge their peers based on what they have, rather than on who they are. In the process, children end up with a damaged sense of self, superficial worldview, and a diminished sense of social responsibility. There is no need to overstate the case; certainly, many children navigate the world of hyper-marketing successfully. But it is nonetheless a negative influence – one that schools, of all places, should not be promoting. Children are already surrounded by near-constant advertising that promotes consumerism and commercial values. But the ubiquity of advertising is not a reason for allowing corporate naming rights and in-school advertising to persist – it is a reason why children need a sanctuary from a world where everything seems to be for sale.

Some advocates of school 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. Corporations that sell harmful products to children will be among those most interested in targeting them by pursuing advertising opportunities. In school districts across the country that permit advertising, district guidelines have not prevented companies selling fast food, soda, and other unhealthful products from advertising on school properties.

But it is not only the presence of corporations selling unhealthy or morally questionable products in schools that raises concerns. Corporate advertisers advance values inconsonant with those schools stand for. 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. Marketing and advertising contravene these goals. Commercialism teaches students that everything has a price. In-school advertising and marketing schemes convey market rather than civic values and impede the ability of schools to function as open spaces where ideas are freely exchanged and the next generation of public-minded, conscientious, and virtuous students can grow.

Weighted against the real harms of school commercialism, the financial benefits of such schemes are minuscule. School advertising programs rarely bring in significant funds, and the small revenues often barely offset the administrative cost and burden of putting them in place.

We urge you to stop any plans for commercial advertising within the Douglas County School System. We look forward to your response, and would be pleased to discuss these matters with you further.

Sincerely,

Robert Weissman,  President Public Citizen

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

53 comments Add your comment

Dr NO / Mr Sunshine

November 17th, 2011
10:20 am

This will end up being discrimintory and lawsuits will be filed.

www.honeyfern.org

November 17th, 2011
10:41 am

NO. Unequivocally, NO. This is the wrong path. Use money more efficiently, cut the administrative waste, stop implementing the same programs with a different name.

That a public school would entertain this makes me physically ill. The contracts with soda companies in schools are stomach-churning enough; what’s next? Snack food companies marketing to our already-obese children right next to clothing companies that tell them they are fat and ugly?

Not the way to go.

HS Public Teacher

November 17th, 2011
10:54 am

All of them already do. How do you think that the athletics make so much money? There are signs up for all types of businesses in the gym, on the football scoreboard, etc.

So then, if athletics do it, why should not academics? Are academics less important?

In my opinion, I think that this would be fine only IF it is limited to academics advertising. Colleges could purchase signs in the hallways, for example. Or, an SAT prep book could be advertised in the cafeteria.

Don't Tread

November 17th, 2011
11:15 am

This is just another form of the “throw more money at it” approach to funding the school system. Getting rid of the waste is the answer, not subjecting easily-impressionable kids to more advertising.

Inman Park Boy

November 17th, 2011
11:25 am

Sorry, I don’t see anything wrong with it. Sounds like good old free enterprise to me. Government coudl use a good shot of that.

Catlady

November 17th, 2011
11:44 am

Three major differences: college attendace is Voluntary. K-12 is not. Students attending college are adults with (I hhope) better discrim skills. And third, states are Charged with providibg k-12 education funding, so they should!

V for Vendetta

November 17th, 2011
11:49 am

I used to work in advertising, and I have no problem with this. Kids are inundated with advertising every second of every day. Like everything else in life, if they are raised well by parents who have been involved, then they will make good choices. If not, they will gorge themselves at the vending machines and become little fatties. I really could care less if people are fat. It’s a personal lifestyle choice. If you don’t have enough knowledge or self control to keep your face out of the bag of chips, then you deserve to be a manatee.

Of course, as others have stated, this should come AFTER the bloated waste we’ve previously been discussing culled from the central offices. Or maybe we’ll just put all the vending machines in there, so they can spend those salaries in a way that directly impacts the schools. Imagine that!

Janet

November 17th, 2011
11:57 am

As a parent, I am not interested. We intentionally do not have cable tv and one of the main reasons for that is so my kids are not exposed to ridiculous amounts of advertising. The LAST thing I want is for some “way too sexy for minors” clothing company advertising their “assets” on the walls at school. Can you imagine if sex tape mavens Kim K. and Paris Hilton were plastered all over the school walls. DISGUSTING!!! I maybe, possibly could be persuaded if it were ONLY educational advertising as HS Public Teacher suggested at 10:534am.

heavy sigh

November 17th, 2011
12:03 pm

This is America – everything is for sale. Lets change the names of the schools to the highest
bidding corporation each year. Then, we deck the walls of each teacher’s room to look like a Nascar car. Think of the money we could save the taxpayers and the brand loyalty we could instill in our young!

Lee

November 17th, 2011
12:54 pm

Advertising in school is nothing new. 35-40 years ago, we had ads in yearbooks, ads on athletic fields, sponsorships of various clubs, etc, etc. That said, I think the key point was that the sponsorship/advertising was related to an extracurricular activity – not the core mission of the school.

George

November 17th, 2011
1:18 pm

Absolutely. Districts are desperate for new revenue streams and can and will use good judgment about what ads and companies are acceptable. The public can no longer afford public education. What’s more important: shielding our children from a few non-intrusive corporate logos are adding more students per class, pushing more program costs and “basics” (like riding the bus) onto parents, and losing critical before and after school programs.

The world has evolved since the Great Recession. People, like public education administrators, need to evolve their thinking.

Kathy

November 17th, 2011
1:33 pm

Don’t go down that slippery slope. When I was in high school, our superintendent wouldn’t allow us to sell yearbook ads to merchants in our small town. We thought he was Scrooge himself, and we had the skinniest yearbook you’ve ever seen. Now I definitely see where he was coming from. I’m tired of fundraisers for trips to Disney World, New York, Washington. I’m tired of supporting students to go to amusement parks, space camp, sea camp. I’m tired of being pressured to buy cookie dough, expensive candy, wrapping paper, hot dog plates, cases of sodas, and even cookbooks. Not only should you avoid the corporate advertising and sponsorship game, take a good look at what your students and their parents are peddling already and put an end to the endless fundraisers.

Tad Jackson

November 17th, 2011
1:48 pm

Kids, here’s a quick and easy and fun way to make an enormous amount of money for your school: pay the school $100 a pop for audio or video recording my class any day you choose and to record any other interaction with you during the school day where you can show your friends and your parents what really goes on … good and bad and horrific.

Or not … and sell cookies instead.

http://www.adixieidary.com

carlosgvv

November 17th, 2011
1:49 pm

Big Business already owns the Republicans and is well on the way to owning the Democrats as well. Since Business essentially runs the country already, (think Military-Industrial-Complex), we might as well let them advertise wherever they want as our politicians will eventually allow this anyway.

dobearsbare

November 17th, 2011
1:58 pm

A $775 million fall in the tax digest? How much of that number is located in the school system budget? If it’s anywhere over half, I’m not sure that there is a solution, through advertising or otherwise. Those are huge numbers.

To the question at hand, advertising at athletic venues is nothing new, and I see no problem with that. They’re targeting paying customers at the athletic events, which are for most intents and purposes commercial enterprises. The “captive audience” part of this referenced earlier is what bugs me. Ads on the back of the desks and on sneeze guards in the cafeteria? No thank you. I’d rather they lease their roof for cellular towers than force-feed advertising messages to kids whose attendance is compulsory.

mystery poster

November 17th, 2011
2:35 pm

How about condom ads for high-schoolers ;-)

mmm, mmm, mmm Barack the LIAR Obama

November 17th, 2011
2:52 pm

If the money will be used WISELY I’m all for it. It’s not like kids don’t see ads everyday, everywhere.

Fred

November 17th, 2011
2:56 pm

@Tad. Be CAREFUL when you post a link lol. That one is dead. But I found your diary anyway be googling Tad Jackson.

Dr NO / Mr Sunshine

November 17th, 2011
3:06 pm

mystery poster

November 17th, 2011
2:35 pm

If the high schoolers could read then the birth control ads might be a big help.

Dr NO / Mr Sunshine

November 17th, 2011
3:08 pm

“So then, if athletics do it, why should not academics? Are academics less important?”

To some, yes. Like the NBA, NFL…

myother

November 17th, 2011
3:40 pm

Noooo. Get the corporations out of goverment! Get the lobbiest out of Wahsington. Politiicians please give the goverment back to the people.

GTT

November 17th, 2011
3:48 pm

In small, rural communities, the schools are raking in so many ad dollars they fiscally harming the local newspaper and not in a small way, either. Literally forcing reduced hours, etc. Really.

Jennifer Falk

November 17th, 2011
4:26 pm

No. Parents and educators need to go “Occupy the Capitol” until proper funding gets restored to public schools. Enough already. Let teachers do their job and teach, let parents do their job and nurture, let children do their job and get an education.

nelson

November 17th, 2011
4:34 pm

Absolutely, sell advertising. Start off easy with a little coca-cola,nike,speedo and go on from therelike an a spelling champion wants work part time at the AJC. It is a capati;listic country and the soon er students are awrae the better. I am serious, skills should be recognized early and utilized, nothing breedss success like success, I mean look at my spelling almost perfect.

Fred

November 17th, 2011
4:44 pm

Dr NO / Mr Sunshine

November 17th, 2011
3:06 pm

mystery poster

November 17th, 2011
2:35 pm

If the high schoolers could read then the birth control ads might be a big help.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Bada Big. Or………. http://instantrimshot.com/index.php?sound=rimshot

Rashanique

November 17th, 2011
5:15 pm

Sure, why not. Imagine the $ your H/S could raise if the football players’ uniforms were covered with corporate logos. They’d look like NASCAR drivers.

Course in the interest of good taste certain sponsors, like Marlboro, Jack Daniels, and The Love Shack would have to be turned away.

Tad Jackson

November 17th, 2011
5:16 pm

Fred … thanks! I misspelled my own dang web site! Sorry! Long day raising awareness and engagement with the ol’ subject matter!

http://www.adixiediary.com

catlady

November 17th, 2011
5:29 pm

Apparently not too good with the old Iphone typing.

Tad Jackson

November 17th, 2011
6:31 pm

Not me, catlady! I’m and old school keyboarder! Peace!

Tad Jackson

November 17th, 2011
6:38 pm

… an old school keyboarder. (Lord have mercy.)

Truth in Moderation

November 17th, 2011
7:02 pm

Hmmm. Children for sale. Sounds like something I heard about in Pennsylvania recently.

catlady

November 17th, 2011
7:23 pm

Tad! I wasn’t talking about you! See my earlier post at 11:44–what a mess!

I love your writing!

catlady

November 17th, 2011
7:24 pm

BTW, I LOVE Jennifer Falk’s idea!

mystery poster

November 17th, 2011
8:12 pm

I remember hearing a few years ago about a high school teacher who had no paper to run off her tests on. She went to a local orthodontist and got him to donate a bunch of paper in exchange for running off his ad on the bottom of each exam. Too far?

Ron

November 17th, 2011
9:52 pm

CIVIC GOALS ARE DIFFERENT FROM CORPORATE GOALS! It would be a huge mistake to allow corporations access to the public schools. Kids need more academic time without advertising distractions. And we already have enough technology if we would use it the right way and stop the obsession with “newer is better” mentality.

bootney farnsworth

November 17th, 2011
10:26 pm

so what happens when the local mosque wants to advertise

Bill Burns

November 18th, 2011
12:13 am

No, with the excepton of events such as plays, festivals, exhibits, etc. Not at sports. We have enough of that in pro sports .Certainly no sports advertising in tne halls or offices and definitely not in or on any textbooks.There is presently a TV Network that broadcasts to high schools that is 100% commercial in nature. End it.

Truth in Moderation

November 18th, 2011
8:28 am

This country isn’t broke. It is overrun with criminals at the highest levels. Remember the $800 billion bailout of 2008? Well, after finally getting a tiny audit of the Fed, the FIRST since 1913, it revealed that the bankers didn’t stop at that congressionally approved amount. No. They loaned out $16 TRILLION, with YOUR name on the credit card (plus interest). THERE WAS NO PUBLIC AUTHORIZATION FOR THIS AMOUNT BY CONGRESS! Their actions were, in my opinion , no less that blatant COUNTERFEITING! Our current PUBLICLY STATED National Debt is already at $15 TRILLION. The secret Fed Loans to the Too Big To Fails and FOREIGN BANKS was OFF THE BOOKS! Call your Senators and Representatives today. Demand a shut down of this criminal activity!
http://www.silverbearcafe.com/private/10.11/gaoaudit.html
http://sanders.senate.gov/newsroom/news/?id=9e2a4ea8-6e73-4be2-a753-62060dcbb3c3
http://my.firedoglake.com/wendydavis/2011/10/20/bernie-sanders-explains-first-ever-fed-audit-showing-massive-conflicts-of-interest/
http://www.scribd.com/doc/60553686/GAO-Fed-Investigation

More criminal banking activity:
http://www.zerohedge.com/news/entire-system-has-been-utterly-destroyed-mf-global-collapse-presenting-first-mf-global-casualty

Giving a drink to a drunk

November 18th, 2011
8:36 am

School systems have plenty of money. They need to be better stewards of the money they have. Once a system is lean and mean, I would be a supporter of age-appropriate corporate sponsorships and advertising in lieu of one or more of the other avenues where we, the taxypayers, are currently paying into the school system (replace property tax, SPLOST, or the need to fund raise at each individual school).

dobearsbare

November 18th, 2011
9:06 am

While I would agree that school systems need to be better stewards of the money they have, I’m not sure I buy the notion that they have plenty of money. They’re required by law to maintain certain student-teacher ratios. If they’re in an area experiencing significant growth — I’d guess Douglas County falls into this category, given that they just built a new high school — that means they are constantly hiring more teachers. Their largest expense is almost certainly teacher payroll. If the tax digest goes down because of high unemployment, there is not necessarily a corresponding drop in enrollment. So the school system has no choice but to maintain its instructional staff — again, certain ratios required by law — but they have less money to do it with.

[...] Should schools sell advertising space and sponsorships to raise money? For athletics, signage on scoreboards, fences, baseball fields, tennis courts, sides and backs of bleachers was discussed, as well as possible homecoming and sideline sponsorships, printed materials and T-shirt giveaways. For auditoriums, there may be … Read more on Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog) [...]

Mr. Echo

November 19th, 2011
8:20 pm

Why not, after-all this is what Capitalism is ALL about. Right? Let the free market decide whether or not this will work.

Beverly Fraud

November 20th, 2011
12:48 am

Maybe America’s Dumbest Criminals would be interested in sponsoring some of the central offices in certain school systems? Could be the new RTTT as systems put together their proposal as to why THEY best represent the values presented in America’s Dumbest Criminals and should therefore get the endorsement deal.

For the children, of course.

Sarah

November 20th, 2011
6:53 am

When I was in elementary school (very early 90’s), we had “Partners in Education” and I think the only reason most of the kids realized that we had those was because we had to sing a thank-you song to them at one of the PTA meetings. To this day, because of that song, I remember that our Partners in Education were Wachovia and Applebee’s. They most definitely didn’t have signage and ads posted all over the school, but they did have posters up at the PTA meetings and Applebee’s sponsored school nights at their restaurants. I would be supportive of similar partnerships if the school was allowing access to the PARENTS, but not if the school was allowing them to bombard the students with ads during school time. Kids get inundated with enough marketing and advertising during the day – keep learning time for learning and not for breeding them to be the next generation of consumers.

Richard

November 20th, 2011
7:04 am

I am a Douglas County resident. I have disagreed many times with the decisions made by this school board.
This time I am in agreement with them.
While I generally do not trust the BOE, I do trust that they will keep out the inappropriate advertising mentioned by some of the earlier commenters.
Where I would focus my attention is how the school system spends any funds that they receive from this endeavor. They do not have a history of prudent fiscal management.

Sarah

November 20th, 2011
7:09 am

and by breeding I meant grooming…obviously I need more coffee before commenting on articles.

KA

November 20th, 2011
8:15 am

Sponsorships have been happening for years; athletic field ad boards and yearbook ads are the most obvious ones. Businesses sponsor ongoing and special instructional programs, field trips, contribute instruments to the music programs, materials to the art programs, and provide materials for teachers, etc. The school district can define the parameters of the ads, i.e. content, size, location. I guess the issue here seems to be the fear that large sized ads will be plastered all over an elementary school classroom, which is not likely to happen as the teachers utilize every inch of wall space for instructional materials, and showcasing student work. For Kathy who commented that she is tired of all the peddling going on in school, let me tell you that when I was a PTA pres many years ago that our fundraisers put a composite rubber floor in the gym over the bare concrete that the school system provided. We provided workroom materials, paper, laminating film etc for the teachers to use to create their instructional materials. We provided funding for a school nurse. We sponsored the D.A.R.E. anti drug program. For years we ran a reading incentive program that awarded small prizes for goal reached. All of these are worthy projects, which directly benefited the students. The fundraiser monies were well spent for the instruction and safety needs of the students. The school system pays for the school building and maintenance, desks and books, and teacher salaries. The rest of the expenses rest on the shoulders of teachers and parents to pitch in and create the best learning environment.

j rev

November 20th, 2011
9:06 am

How about the state government restore the over $2 billion yearly that was taken away from local school systems during a time of a fairly good economy. That, on top of the recession cuts have local school systems now paying a much larger percentage, even though the tax revenues that once supported are still being collected and funneled elsewhere.

Vince

November 20th, 2011
9:31 am

Folks, schools have cut about all there is to cut. Three or four years of salaries going in reverse will make you see things in a different light. Currently, I make $15,000 a year less than I did in 2008. I am making $30,000 a year less than I was scheduled to make.

Schools provide after school daycare just so they can buy items necessary to run the school efficiently.

Advertise in the schools? Three years ago I would have said, “No way!” Now?….I’m all for it.

Beverly Fraud

November 20th, 2011
10:37 am

“Folks, schools have cut about all there is to cut.”

Schools? MAYBE. School SYSTEMS Vince?

Seriously, DCSS has a bunch of $2100 dollar conference chairs, is (was) looking for 73k salaried secretaries (oh but the MUST have a GED-”high standards” you know) and you REALLY want to make the claim “Folks, schools have cut about all there is to cut”?

Now if you had added “without seriously impacting the FRIENDS and FAMILY jobs program” most would agree with you.