Ads on S.C. school buses?

COLUMBIA -- S.C. students could find themselves staring at advertisements posted inside their school buses during their daily commute between school and home.

The ads could bring in $2.8 million the first year and as much as $6 million the second year if they are placed in the approximately 5,000 buses across the state, the state's school transportation director said.

The money would be shared between the state, which owns the buses, and the districts, which maintain them.

State education department officials notified districts earlier this month that they could consider working with a state-approved advertising agency to put ads inside buses.

But some local school districts say they're faced with an ethical dilemma of whether to subject students who ride the bus to advertising.

"We don't feel comfortable advertising to a captive group of kids that don't have a choice about being on that bus," Lexington 1 spokeswoman Mary Beth Hill said.

The state's school transportation department looked into the idea of advertising on buses after director Donald Tudor said he received calls from several districts interested in pursuing the venture.

"We couldn't find a reason why not to set the process up," he said.

The decision whether to allow ads in the buses would be up to individual school districts. And each district would be responsible for determining what type of ads is appropriate for students.

Tudor said higher education institutions, the military and various Web sites would likely be interested in advertising on the buses.

A six-member committee designated by each district would decide whether to permit those groups and other products, such as junk food, to be advertised.

"One district may say we won't allow you to have ads of fast-food products, but we might allow you to use a McDonald's logo then have the ad go on to say, 'Stay in school,'" Tudor said.

The advertisements would be posted on the inside of the buses above the windows.

They could be as wide as the window and no more than 11 inches tall.

The advertising agency would be responsible for installing and maintaining the ads, Tudor said.

State officials signed a one-year contract with advertising firm SAC of Warrenville in November.

The company would receive 20 percent of the revenue for each ad and the state about 80 percent, or $2.8 million the first year.

Tudor's department is working with lawmakers to craft regulations that would allow the state to share its 80 percent with districts.

Schools pay 40 percent of the transportation budget for buses, but since they'd shoulder the bulk of the responsibility under the plan, Tudor said his department is considering recommending that districts get at least 50 percent of the revenue.

Tudor said it's too early to tell whether advertising on the school buses will be a feasible source of revenue.

"It potentially can generate revenue," he said.

"However, until it's actually done and done over time, I won't be convinced that it can generate the revenue that advertising companies think it can."

In 1992, several local districts aired a 12-minute news program in classrooms. The show contained 10 minutes of news and two minutes of commercials that ranged from tennis shoes to candy bars. Parents expressed concern about whether the schools have the right to guarantee that students will watch advertiser-sponsored programming. The program was later pulled.