Opinion

No ads on school buses

Children are bombarded by ads practically wherever they go. School buses ought to be one place that advertisers can't reach them.

But if some in the state education department have their way, the state's fleet of school buses soon could be sporting ads. Education department officials notified school districts last month that they could consider working with a state-approved ad agency to begin putting ads inside buses.

The money involved no doubt is enough to pique the interest of some districts. The ads could bring in $2.8 million the first year and as much as $6 million in the second year if they are placed in the approximately 5,000 buses across the state. The money would be shared between the state, which owns the buses, and the districts, which maintain them.

The ads could be as wide as a bus window and no more than 11 inches tall, and the ad agency would be responsible for installing and maintaining them. State officials signed a one-year contract with the advertising firm SAC of Warrenville in November. Under the contract terms, the agency would receive 20 percent of the revenue for each ad, while the state would receive 80 percent.

State officials have mentioned colleges, the military and various Web sites as likely advertisers. But they have not ruled out the possibility of fast-food merchandisers, athletic equipment companies or others using the buses to advertise.

Some local districts say they are worried about the ethics of subjecting students who ride the bus to advertising. We hope many more districts get the same qualms.

Students essentially are a captive audience who have no choice but to ride the bus. They shouldn't be force-fed advertising on the way to school.

State officials say districts could decide what kind of ads are acceptable or whether they want to accept ads on their buses at all. Again, we hope districts consider the ethical issues involved.

If district officials allow ads on the bus, that constitutes a tacit endorsement of the products being hawked by the ads. Is it really fair to students -- especially young, impressionable students -- to imply that the school district wants them to buy a certain brand of basketball shoe?

Any district could refuse to accept ads, but that would deprive the district of money that other, less scrupulous districts would get. We doubt the state would provide other sources of revenue for the districts that opt out of placing ads on buses.

Selling ads on school buses is one more step down a slippery slope to allowing corporations to invade the halls of academia. Where would it stop? Would students be forced to watch televised ads in the classroom?

That is not as outrageous a possibility as it might seem. In 1992, several school districts aired a 12-minute broadcast that contained 10 minutes of so-called news and two minutes of advertising. Fortunately, when parents complained, the broadcasts were pulled.

We worry that once corporate interests gain a foothold in the state's schools, residents will come to accept that as the norm. They will come to believe that advertising revenues can supplant the need for residents to pay for and support their children's education.

Ads on school buses are a bad precedent, and we hope that districts across the state will reject this program.

IN SUMMARY

Proposal to allow companies to put ads on school buses raises many ethical questions.

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