What exactly are corporate sponsors buying when their logos show up on public school sports facilities, book covers and music festival programs? Is it simple advertising or is it something more? And either way, is it an appropriate way for struggling school districts to shore up their budgets?
These are questions that increasingly are facing school officials, including those in Lawrence. In Monday's Journal-World, a newly elected school board member voiced support for increased use of corporate sponsorships and the frequency of such agreements certainly appears to be increasing nationwide. Some districts have gone so far as to sell advertising on their school buses, according to Lawrence School Supt. Randy Weseman.
How far does Lawrence want its district to go in commercializing schools? Many local businesses already support various school activities because they believe it's part of their civic duty, but large corporate sponsorships could be a different matter.
The local board already has signed contracts with Coke and Pepsi to sell their products in the district's high schools and junior highs. An expansion of that program may be considered. A local dentist made the interesting point in a Journal-World column several weeks ago that perhaps the schools shouldn't support soft drinks that promote tooth decay and obesity, increasing problems in today's young people.
And there also are philosophical issues. Our lives are filled with commercial slogans, advertising and logo placement. It's part of our modern life, but must it be part of our educational environment?
There's also an issue of what influence the corporate sponsors now -- or someday may -- have on our schools. Tooth decay aside, contracting with Coke or Pepsi to sell soft drinks in the schools probably has little impact on the quality of education our children receive. Is it possible that corporate sponsors could someday have such a large role in funding schools that they also would expect some role in determining what is taught or how it is presented? Could they use their captive schoolroom audience to sell some point of view as well as their product?
It may seem far-fetched to consider such possibilities, but it's probably important as school officials consider commercial contracts to project the impact of those contracts many years into the future and consider the worst-case scenarios.
In the current tight funding situation, it's easy to see why school officials are thinking outside the box to raise more revenue, but they should think carefully about the long-term consequences before jumping into the deep end of the corporate funding pool.