Pros and Cons of School Advertising

By Nora Carr

As if last spring’s fiscal bloodletting wasn’t enough, school officials could face another round this budget season if state tax revenues continue to plummet.

For advertisers, educators’ pain is their gain. According to a 2001 study, commercialism in schools has skyrocketed by 473 percent since 1990 -- and that was almost a decade before the economy tanked. Today, steep budget cuts make proposals for placing ads on school and district websites, electronic newsletters, gymnasium walls, and school marquees more tempting, even for administrators who typically are reluctant to embrace commercialism.

An advertising firm has approached a Texas school district, offering to sell ads that would be placed at the bottom of the system’s home page. Districts in California are debating whether to allow companies to place ads on high school cafeteria tables.

North Carolina school districts have been approached by “partners” willing to pay to produce and distribute electronic newsletters to parents, employees, and other key people as long as they could include district-approved banner ads and links to sponsors’ websites.

The lure of tens of thousands of dollars in unrestricted revenue is hard to turn down, especially when faced with teacher layoffs or cutting back on school safety initiatives. Communications operations are particularly hard hit, as administrators struggle to find funds to keep employees and parents informed when classrooms are overflowing with students.

Although such business deals can generate dollars for cash-strapped schools, administrators need to make sure the learning resources, technology tools, or student experiences they purchase with these funds are worth the cost of promoting a particular brand, product, or corporation.

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