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Bus ads are a bad idea

Legislation put forward by Rep. Jim Bird of West Jordan would turn Utah's yellow school buses into rolling advertisements.
Legislation put forward by Rep. Jim Bird of West Jordan would turn Utah's yellow school buses into rolling advertisements.
Deseret News archives

We feel the pain of the Jordan School District. Being cash-strapped with kids to teach is distressing. But the plan to post advertisements on school buses (put forward by Rep. Jim Bird of West Jordan) feels more than a little ill-advised and desperate.

The ads would bring in revenue for struggling school districts. They would also create a very cozy relationship between the state school system and certain businesses. It's one thing for schools to partner with businesses for education purposes. That can be constructive and helpful. But it's quite another for schools to sell prominent space to promote specific products, especially on vehicles such as bright yellow school buses, which the public has come to regard as iconic.

The door would be open to unhealthy relationships of influence between deep-pocketed companies and schools. Each ad could be seen as an endorsement from the public school system. Few products would qualify for that kind of relationship.

Yes, the school bus ads would be regulated (no alcohol, sex, gambling or drugs). But what about fatty fast foods? With school administrators battling student obesity, do they really want to pitch more calories? And what about clothing? Would buses post ads for one type of "look" but reject ads for another?

Because the state is not allowed to discriminate, would ads for all religions, political parties and lifestyles be permitted?

Turning school buses into big canary-colored NASCAR vehicles is not the answer.

Yes, many companies would love to get into the pocketbooks of teenagers, but there are plenty of places for them to do that in the private sector. There is no reason to litter state vehicles with drive-by sales pitches.

Right now, five states allow advertising on state school buses. One state prohibits political ads. Another targets certain foods. One state prohibits misleading, deceptive ads. (Now there's a topic for about a dozen board meetings.)

In short, there's a reason why more states haven't opted for the ad program. They can see the pitfalls outweigh the windfalls.

School districts do need money. But plastering school buses with soft drink logos and other chatter is not the answer. This is an idea that needs to be taken back to the drawing board.

We give Bird high marks for imagination. It was worth a shot.

But the entanglements and chances for misleading messages and abuse are too great.

Put your thinking cap back on, and give it another go.