It’s no secret that Americans are facing some of the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression. With unemployment levels nearing 10%, business and families are tightening their fiscal belts in an effort to cut costs and stretch existing funds.
In a bad economy it’s only natural for people to express the greatest concern over their individual assets and businesses. What people often fail to consider though, is the vitality of public services that are financially dependent on local town and city governments – many of whom are enduring the same cost cutting measures. Most seriously affected by budget cuts, and often ignored, are our nation’s public school systems.
In America, public school systems are typically funded on the state level through education budgets, which are in turn, funded through the collection of taxes and are controlled by the state legislatures. As the financial crisis worsens though, states have been forced to reduce school budgets. An increasingly popular proposal to supplement deflating education budgets is the controversial idea of advertising within the school environment. In May of this year, a bill was introduced in the NY state legislature which would permit school districts to sell advertising space on the side on the side of school busses. The proposed bill, S32229-a in the senate and A7701 in the assembly, would allow individual districts to keep the majority of the revenue generated from the ad sales. The current projected value for one of these advertisements ranges from $150,000 to $250,000.
Opponents of school bus advertising have expressed concern over how this type of advertising may adversely affect the quality of the educational environment. Their primary concerns focus on the messages contained in these advertisements. Some parents, recognizing that New York ranks 18th in adolescent obesity are concerned about fast food advertisements. According to the text of the bill, alcohol, tobacco, and political campaigns would be prohibited from purchasing school bus advertisements. Furthermore, the bill gives individual school districts unilateral control over the terms of the contract surrounding the advertisement and absolute authority to deny any advertiser the right to purchase school bus ad space.
Proponents of the bill have responded that the advertisements, which are in reality aimed at drivers on the outside of the bus, not students, could also be used to promote healthy lifestyles and general well being. In Minnesota, a local school system has begun a pilot program allowing the outside of high school lockers, which are aimed at students, to be wrapped in advertisements featuring ads for, education, fruits, vegetables, and healthy alternatives to soft drinks. According to a report from the local TV Fox affiliate, the reception from parents, students, and school administrators has generally been positive.
State Senator Mark Grisanti of Buffalo, the sponsor of the School Bus Advertising legislation in New York, points out that the bill is by no means a mandate to incorporate bus advertising into a school board budget, but rather an option for the board to prevent cutting necessary programs. Senator Grisanti defended the bill by pointing out that he has no intention of micromanaging school districts and feels that this bill gives boards an increased level of financial independence. The bill also prohibits cities in New York State with populations of greater than 1 million (ruling out New York City) from selling ad space; a step that Sen. Grisanti hopes will prevent school busses from simply becoming moving billboards.
Advertising on school busses is not exactly a novel concept. While the idea may be new to New Yorkers, school bus advertising programs have already been implemented in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Tennessee, New Jersey, and Texas. In Dallas, a local school board has already benefited from its pilot program and used the proceeds to prevent large-scale teacher layoffs. The ads in Dallas, managed by Alpha Media LLC, sport advertisements for local banks, appropriately encouraging drivers to “honk if you need a bail out.”
The New York State legislature has yet to come to a conclusion on the issue. In general there seems to be bipartisan support for the plan. Despite logistical differences, one thing everyone seems to agree on is that something needs to be done to supplement public education in New York, and school bus advertisements do generate revenue. Whether New Yorkers will be honking for their own bail out is, for now, still a matter for committees and sub committees. A resolution on the bill is expected this summer.
*The text if the bill can be read here: http://bit.ly/jhOHWX