In a new report, watchdog group Public Citizen blasts school districts willing to sell advertising on school-related real estate from lockers to cafeteria trays, arguing that the lasting impact on children far outweighs any financial resources a school district may raise.
Public Citizen reports that five out of the country’s 25 largest school districts offer some sort of student-facing ad programs and at least five others are considering them. The interest group suggests that no school district is able to raise more than a fraction of 1% percent of an operating budget from the ad programs.
The interest group also criticizes an emerging rep firm-type system, where “middlemen” try to assemble packages so marketers can buy a presence in multiple school districts at once, but take a cut of up to 50% of the ad dollars.
Public Citizen acknowledges it is difficult to verify exactly whether a school district allows advertising and how the “middlemen” work. The largest district that does offer ad opportunities is Houston, the country’s seventh-largest district. Dade County, Fla., the country’s fourth-largest, is negotiating with an ad firm to launch the process, Public Citizen says. (When the district sought help from a type of rep firm, it received proposals from 17 entities.)
The suburban Washington district in Prince Georges County, Md. recently began placing Google AdSense ads on school Web sites, Public Citizen said, a;though some are for products that are education-related, such as tutoring services.
According to the report, The Orange County, Fla. district says on its Web site there are advertising opportunities on school menus and chances to sponsor school plays, but a district representative told Public Citizen there are no “trapped environment” ads such as in classrooms or in buses.
Noting that advertising for unhealthy food and drinks can lead to health issues, Public Citizen wrote that “widespread commercialism within schools also affects students’ capacity to learn and their personal development.”
Public Citizen wrote that school districts with a significant minority population might be most at risk for a negative advertising effect on students, since they may be the most “cash-strapped” and likely to look to advertising as an alternate revenue stream.
Some of the school ad programs Public Citizen cites are in athletic venues, which may generate less controversy than in other places and have been around for years.