THE BLOG

The Ads on the School Bus Go Round and Round

05/25/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Public school districts have upped the ante when it comes to marketing to school kids. Administrators in states like Arizona, Florida and Texas are allowing school buses to carry paid advertising. Schools in New Jersey and Ohio are also considering the advertising move.

Generating new streams of revenue is a priority for any school district these days, part of the fiscal dance that takes place when budget cuts mean slashed services and lost jobs. So, it's not hard to see why earning money via school bus advertisements might seem like a viable option to a schools superintendent looking at layoffs. After all, the line between education and commerce was blurred long ago when the first logo-laden vending machine was allowed on school grounds.

But should we be further exposing our school kids to commercialization - even if it means there's some extra cash at the end of the day?

Proponents of school bus ads argue that in today's marketing-driven world, advertising is interwoven into the most quotidian of pursuits, like it or not. We're already exposed to a ubiquitous stream of commercialization, our kids included. So, what's the harm?

Plenty, if you believe in the accumulative effect theory, particularly when it comes to vulnerable young minds. To argue that school-age kids are already hammered by commercialization, so it doesn't really matter if you continue to pile it on, seems misguided at best.

Besides, if that's the case, why don't we just go the whole nine yards and have teachers start wearing sponsored uniforms, or allow school buildings to be plastered with slogans? Schools ought to be a respite from the avalanche of marketing hype we're bludgeoned with on a daily basis, not a partner to companies trying to sell a product.

Proponents of school bus marketing say they adhere to restrictions regarding the content of those ads. But we all know in our First Amendment driven world there's no way to guarantee those ads will have anything to do with scholastic pursuits.

In Colorado, for example, school buses in Jefferson County - the state's largest school district - now carry messages promoting First Bank of Colorado (begging the question as to whether you're ever too young to begin learning about demand deposits and CDs, I guess).

It's tricky enough for school administers to navigate the worlds of commerce and education, even when companies have more lofty education ideals in place. The content on Channel One News, for example, the in-school news feed that's broadcast to middle and high school classrooms, can be pretty good. The ads that accompany that content? Not so much.

What really rankles, though, is that stunts like school bus advertising are a quick fix to far more deeply rooted problems, namely a public school system that has become fiscally hamstrung by unfunded mandates and trenchant union laws. Attempts to improve that system may very well include the creation of new streams of revenue, but not at the cost of our children.

Advertising doesn't belong in schools or on school buses. Funding crisis or not, the real message we need to be promoting is that our kids are not for sale.