School Bus Ads: Good Use of Space, or Crass Commercialization?

Facing a combined budget deficit of more than $100 billion for fiscal year 2012, a lot of states are cutting education budgets to make ends meet: laying off teachers, reducing hours and services. But recently, a handful of states have found a creative way to raise revenue from public education by putting advertisements on school buses.

Seven states, the latest being New Jersey, now allow school districts to sell ads on the sides of public school buses. Florida is currently considering it. So is Guam apparently. There are even two companies, Alpha Media and Steep Creek Media (both in Texas), that specialize in nothing but school bus advertisements. Note to Steep Creek Media: you may want to lead with something other than a Little Caesars pizza ad on your home page. Getting healthier food into public school cafeterias is kind of a big topic these days. Anyway, an executive at Alpha Media tells the Philadelphia Inquirer that a school district with 150 buses can make up to $500,000 over four years by selling ads.

A quick Internet search shows local school boards all over the country considering selling ads on their school buses. But it also uncovers a similar pattern of news stories about cash-strapped school districts selling ads on school buses back in 1994. This New York Times piece highlights a school district in Colorado that plastered its buses with ads from Burger King and 7-11 to help supplement a $133 million budget. While I can understand why some parents might not be in favor of this, if putting ads on yellow school buses means a few teachers get to keep their jobs, it seems like an OK decision. But do the ads always have to be for things like fast food and convenience stores?

What do you think?

Are School Bus Ads an OK Way to Raise Revenue?

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  1. Debi says:

    When will pharmaceutical companies start taking advantage of this?

    “Are all your friends on Adderall and they won’t share? Talk to your doctor today!”

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  2. Min says:

    I think it’s a great idea. Quite frankly, any time I see an empty space in a public area, I think it’s a wasted opportunity; someone somewhere would pay some amount to put something on there. Is it crass commercialization? Maybe, but hey, money is what makes the world go round.

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  3. Mike B says:

    While this sort of revenue definitely helps, in the long run it turns out to be a drop in the bucket compared to the sorts of budget cuts that states are now forcing through. Frankly I’d like to see more schools start charging for parking or at least the best spots close to the building. If students are wealthy enough to drive themselves to school why should the district subsudize that chose with free parking? This is a no brainer for urban and older suburban schools that have limited space for such amenities.

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    • Christina says:

      On the other hand you have to hire someone to inforce this…

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    • pawnman says:

      My high school was one step ahead of you, way back in 1996. You had to purchase a parking pass for about $20 a year. Every morning, the teachers had a rotating shift where they’d go look for cars in the parking lot without a pass and have them towed. Obviously, pretty much everyone either paid the $20 or parked about 500 yards away on a local street.

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  4. mike says:

    Great idea. Let’s also start selling advertisements on the sides of bombers, A-10s, Predator drones, attack helicopters, tanks, etc., that we send off to exotic lands. I’m sure McDonalds would love to soften up the Afghan market with tanks emblazoned with the golden arches.

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    • Milo Minderbinder says:

      Seems like a perfectly good idea to make money from opportunities such as this.

      “Catch 22″, indeed…

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    • Mike B says:

      A better idea would to have a rewards system for taxpayers sort of in the line of PBS pledge drives. Basically pay a certain amount in income tax, you get your name applied to something. The more you pay the better your options. Yes the wealthy should pay more in taxes, but there’s no reason society cannot thank them for their contribution to the common good. A side effect would be to encourage the wealthy to bump up to the next level of giving. Who could resist throwing in an extra couple hundred thousand K to upgrade from having their name on an M1 tank to an F-22. States and municipalities could do the same for police cars and transit vehicles. Best of all it avoids all of the commercialism associated with sponsorships.

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      • James says:

        “…pay a certain amount in income tax, you get your name applied to something.”

        Except that it would only attract the part of the taxpaying public who’re egotistical enough to want their name on something. Me, I’d be willing to have my name taken off a few things.

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      • pawnman says:

        I don’t know about using income taxes, but plenty of places (schools included) put people who donate money on a wall or put their name on a brick in the sidewalk.

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    • Melissa says:

      This sounds like a new spin on the old quote: “It’ll be a great day when education gets all the money it wants and the Air Force has to hold a bake sale to buy bombers.”

      The 21st century version is apparently to substitute “sell ad space” in place of “hold a bake sale”.

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      • pawnman says:

        Of course, when the Air Force is holding that bake sale, it’ll be up to the teachers to hold the coastline using rulers and red ink pens.

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  5. David says:

    Sad, a terrible choice districts and administrators are faced with. In the long run, what are the costs to society of increased obesity from a public school endorsement of fast food? What affect does commercialization have on the psyche of the children?

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    • Jasper says:

      Just before I left my high school (so 1995-7) in the Netherlands (and we were a rich, nearly-all-white school, too), advertising billboards appeared in all the halls. Forget the outside — there were actually there right between our lockers and the door to the classroom.

      The US seems to be a bit behind the times.

      Admittedly, ours did seem to be vetted to not be too offensive to the first-graders (we start counting over again on moving to high school, at 12/13) and their parents, and did not seem to include Burger King or McD.

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  6. James says:

    Maybe material for another column, but I can’t help but wonder: is advertising space really worth THAT much? I’ll concede that I’m a long way from being a representative member of the public, but I can’t instantly recall ever being influenced to buy a product by a display ad.

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  7. James says:

    “Anyway, an executive at Alpha Media tells the Philadelphia Inquirer that a school district with 150 buses can make up to $500,000 over four years by selling ads.”

    So a single bus is going to make a touch over $800 a year for a school district. Now that ain’t peanuts, but it does make me wonder what companies like Alpha Media charge per bus.

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    • MW says:

      This is a fine example of a common practice – when you want a number to appear big, accumulate of a large number of examples and time (150 buses, 4 years.) If you want it to appear small, cut it down: one year, one bus. In this case, I think one year, one bus is the honest and natural way to report it – it is the natural scale of the problem, and lets you easily compare it to other relevant costs. In this case, we can see that compared to capital, maintenance and running costs of a school bus, this is small change.

      Similarly, notice how when government cuts spending or increases revenue, they’ll tell you how much over 5 or 10 years, instead of per-year. (Unless it is a tax increase, when they’ll try to make it look small, quoting perhaps median per person, or average per person where ‘person’ includes lots of non-taxpayers.)

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  8. Pshrink says:

    I think I’m going to be ill.

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