Schools consider selling captive consumers to make ends meet

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It’s a sad fact that the state isn’t providing Minnesota’s schools enough money to educate our children. With a 14 percent inflation-adjusted drop in state aid since 2003 and $1.8 billion in delayed payments for the foreseeable future, schools are looking for any way to generate additional revenue.


Some school districts are considering selling billboard-sized advertising space within their schools. These ads would be incorporated along bays of lockers so that any student walking down a hall will be dwarfed by the advertising message.


One school district considering the move is Centennial. Cathy Wyland, a spokeswoman for Centennial schools, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press that the district cut its budget by $3 million and laid off 60 teachers and other staff members this year. The district expects to make an additional $1 million in cuts for the 2011-12 school year.


The ads could bring in an additional $200,000 a year. “Even if we make $100,000, that’s two teachers,” Wyland told the newspaper. “Every penny helps.”


That’s the attitude in the St. Francis school district, which will add the large wraparound ads on lockers at all their schools and will raise $230,000 a year.


St. Francis schools say ads will be limited to those promoting a healthy lifestyle; they include ads from Cheerios and Cub Foods. Educational ads could come from St. Cloud State University, Underwater World at the Mall of America, the Children’s Theater and the Minnesota Zoo.


“Districts may consider this if it’s the difference between cutting a couple of teachers or putting advertisements in the cafeteria,” Greg Abbott, director of communications for the Minnesota School Boards Association, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.


“Until the state funds take care of the schools adequately, (options like these) won’t go away,” he said.


Abbott is correct when he says the state doesn’t adequately fund schools. His choice of the word “options” is debatable since schools have no options but to plaster available open surface with advertisements that benefit the advertiser and not the student.


Ads do not deserve a prominent place in school buildings. Students go to school to learn, not to be a captive audience for profiteers. The fact that advertisements will have such a prominent place in schools is an indictment of Minnesota’s lawmakers and their lack of resolve in properly funding education.