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Schools shouldn’t sell kids’ attention to highest bidders

 

The State
February 13, 2008

 

EDUCATING THE NEXT generation is one of the central functions of state government, and essential state services should be paid for by all of us, not by hustles we dream up to run on the side.

That’s why we shouldn’t be funding school reading programs with the lottery.

It’s one of the reasons vending machines shouldn’t be allowed in schools.

And it’s why schools shouldn’t be selling ad space inside school buses.

The plan announced last month by the State Education Department to let local school districts sell the ad space is just the latest example and result of our state’s chronic refusal to adequately fund essential services.

This strikes many as a pedantic, and unrealistic, objection. The state has made it clear that it won’t fund schools adequately, they would argue, and so schools are justified in grabbing money wherever they can get it.

We heard the same thing back when politicians and some educators were hawking the lottery, and look what’s happening: Mention the need for more school funding, and (as we predicted would happen) a chorus of critics responds that the schools couldn’t possibly need more money since they’re getting all that lottery money. (Never mind that “all that lottery money” amounts to less 2 than percent of state public education funding.)

Like the lottery, the advertising-inside-buses plan creates problems that extend beyond the question of how we should pay for essential services.

If advertising is fine on school buses, why not on classroom bulletin boards? Why not in textbooks?

Because right or wrong, kids are likely to get the impression that their teachers and their school endorse the products that are advertising.

Because the only way schools can collect advertising dollars is by guaranteeing a captive audience. If parents want to subject their children to a constant barrage of advertising, that’s their business; but the schools have no right to do that, not when we require children to go to school.

Because in the case of the bus ads, the hostages the schools serve up to advertisers will be disproportionately poor.

Because selling student face time is likely to widen the gulf between the haves and the have nots, since the bigger, wealthier districts would be better situated to negotiate with advertisers and could likely deliver a larger, more desirable audience.

It’s one thing for schools or other public institutions to turn to gimmicks and “marketing opportunities” to pay for nonessentials. Booster clubs sell ads in athletic programs. Colleges sell naming rights to coliseums.

It’s another to use such funds to underwrite essential state services — and particularly to do it in such an objectionable way. Ideally, the Education Department should reverse its policy. But whether it does or not should be inconsequential: The agency is merely allowing school districts to cash in, and they should all decline the offer.





 

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