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?

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I appreciate this approach much more than the sales pitches they require all gradeschoolers to do. Why is anyone opposed to ads on school buses when it's expected that your kids will become door-to-door salespeople hawking crappy wrapping paper and cheap candy to raise funds for field trips and other classroom amenities?


True enough. I'd much rather see ads on buses than be forced to take my kid's wrapping paper order form to work and attempt to get my colleagues to buy stuff readily available at Wal-Mart.


It's unfortunate that people are still trying to figure out ways to fund public schools when those institutions have utterly failed. Shouldn't we be looking for better and more efficient ways to educate kids?


We are not j ust selling ad space, we are selling the attention of our children. Channel 1 has been in our classrooms for a number of years and schools, in this case, sell 15 minutes of our children's attention for advertisements and corporate news. This is the privatizing of our school system one chunk at a time. I hate to bring up the slippery slope argument but it is already happening and this is just one more step down the slope.

Josh Golin

Given this is an economics blog, you should give people some data so they understand that -- in return for commercializing their school buses and selling out their kids -- they're actually generating very little revenue. I did that here:


Simple logic
A school bus is public transportation.
public transportation is subsidized by ads (to reduce the burden on riders' fares, and taxes of non-riders)
Why not allow ad space on school buses, I say why stop there, allow school sponsorships, just like sports arenas.
bridge and concrete barrier/guardrail sponsorship, they pay for construction and labeling, this would reduce cost of all infrastructure construction costs, vibrant walls would be better than that drab concrete gray.


I've never understood this sort of advertising/marketing. It's basically spam on buses. Of the people who see the bus go by, how many actually remember the product or buy the product because of the ad?
Do you seriously think that fewer people will eat at Burger King if BK doesn't advertise on the school bus?
Oh well, I work for a company that makes most of it's $$ from advertising. It appears to work, even though I think it shouldn't.


Why wouldnt the schools want the free money? Beats making kids beg for money selling candy bars.