NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

GAO Warns About "Commercialism" In Public Schools

September 15, 2000

The General Accounting Office yesterday released a report warning that "commercialism" in public schools is widespread and increasing, and that schools are not prepared to deal with it. The GAO recommended that states develop policies to deal with the trend of private firms supplementing school budgets in exchange for advertising in the schools, access to student consumers and marketing data collection.

  • The study revealed that only 19 states have statutes or regulations for school-related commercial activities -- and no state specifically addresses market research practices, even though 95 percent of Internet sites directed at children collect some personal data.
  • State laws governing commercialism in education vary widely -- with Maryland, for example, allowing restricted advertising on school bus shelters, while Virginia restricts advertising on or in school buses.
  • New York forbids commercial activities on school campuses, but permits commercial sponsorship of school activities.
  • In Mississippi, school boards are allowed by law to offer protective textbook covers to advertisers, while Florida allows school boards to set their own policies on advertising.

Commercial sponsorship can have some unsettling consequences. A student in Georgia was suspended for wearing a Pepsi shirt on a school-sponsored "Coke Day." One math textbook teaches fractions by having students calculate how many children prefer the video game system Sony PlayStation over its competitor, Sega's Saturn. The roof of a school in Texas was painted with a Dr. Pepper logo.

Source: Andrea Billups, "Report: States Not Policing Ads in the Classroom," Washington Times, September 15, 2000.

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