An advertising watchdog group is urging parents to fight the growing popularity of school bus ads, arguing that they unfairly target young, impressionable consumers.
The ads are allowed in New Jersey, Texas, Arizona, Massachusetts, Colorado, Massachusetts, Utah, Nevada and New Mexico, according to the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC). Legislation to allow them was recently enacted in Georgia, and a bus ad bill is pending in Oklahoma. One recently passed the Indiana State Senate.
About 20 districts in New Jersey currently allow the ads, and several others are considering the idea, according to radio station New Jersey 101.5. Schools in Washington County, Tennessee, are mulling whether to sell the ads. Among other districts that have bus ads are Texas' Austin Independent School District and the Scottsdale Unified District in Arizona.
"The first message and the last message that a kid sees each day is an ad," Josh Golin, the CCFC's associate director, told CBS MoneyWatch. He added that the ads aren't very profitable for districts, netting them on average about $1 per pupil, and "parents lose the ability to shield their kids from advertising."
The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services opposes bus ads because they might distract drivers and cause accidents. Nevada's Washoe County School Board recently rejected bus ads for that reason even though a media company estimated that they would earn the district $800,000 over four years, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Michael Beauchamp, the owner of Alpha Media, a school bus advertising company that operates in 20 school districts in five states, rejects the critics' arguments and notes that the ads are designed to target adults outside the bus not the children riding in them.
"As long as the program is managed in the right way, it's a win-win for the district," he said, adding that he wasn't aware of any evidence linking school bus ads to accidents.
The appeal of school bus ads to cash-strapped districts is understandable. According to a 2014 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, many states are budgeting less aid to school districts than they did before the Great Recession. And where funding has increased, it didn't make up for the previous shortfall.
"Given the still-weak state of many of the nation's real estate markets," the nonprofit said, "many school districts struggle to raise more money from the property tax without raising rates, and rate increases are often politically very difficult."