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Money Maker Series Part 1

A Madison Ave. Education: Schools Use Ads to Raise Money

There are precious few places in America that have managed to avoid the seemingly endless bombardment of advertising. Until recently, that short list included schools. A growing trend among schools, however, is using almost every available space to generate money via advertising.

Seminole County Schools sold this ad space on their report cards to fast food giant McDonalds'. The move drew sharp criticism and the ads were dropped.

Schools in New Jersey and Utah are among those empowered to sell advertising on the side of school buses. There is legislation pending in a handful of other states seeking to do the same. The laws allow any type of advertisement to be placed on the side of the school buses, provided it doesn’t promote alcohol, tobacco or political advocacy. Superintendents also have veto authority over any ad they feel is inappropriate.

While objections to the use of bus advertising have been relatively mild, school officials are quick to point to the flow of capital the ads are generating. In Houston, a similar plan would generate over $157,000 per month if all of the district’s 900 busses featured a single ad at the bottom of the pricing tier.

The advertising doesn’t stop when the students get off the bus. In 2010 schools in Minneapolis began allowing companies to place giant ads on school lockers. Entire rows of lockers were covered in colorful advertisements for businesses like a local aquarium. The Minnesota Star-Tribune quoted Centennial school superintendent Paul Stremick as saying, “I hate to say it's all about the money, but it probably is. Still, we want to keep students’ interests in mind.”

Those who thought the advertising bombardment would end in the school buildings were disappointed when a Florida school district began sending ads home with their students. What students brought home to their parents wasn’t a flyer for a bake sale, or a box of candy to sell door-to-door. It was their report cards, on which the district was selling ad space.

Fast-food giant McDonald’s agreed to sponsor Seminole County Schools’ report card jackets in exchange for the ad space. When parents saw a smiling Ronald McDonald on the documents, however, phones began ringing. Amid the protests, McDonald’s voluntarily ended the sponsorship.

While these plans, and others like them, have certainly garnered the lion’s share of controversy, they have succeeded in their mission of generating funding. With budget shortfalls still crippling countless school districts across the country, it will not be surprising to see similar plans attempted.

Related Resources

Other articles in the Money Maker series:

Part 2 - Gold Digging: School’s cash-for-gold event raises eyebrows

Part 3 - Taking a Gamble: Schools rake in casino profits

Part 4 - Cheating for Dollars: Schools fix grades to get more funding

Part 5 – Filling Seats: Bribing kids to come to school

Part 6 - 'Sheepish' About Cutting Costs: Schools trim landscaping bills with 'live lawnmowers'


Article by Jason Tomaszewski, EducationWorld Associate Editor
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