This Report Card Is Brought to You by McDonald's

Can Ronald McDonald raise money for cash-strapped schools? With budgets across the nation suffering deeper and deeper cuts, some school districts are selling ad space on report cards and even buses. Is this shameless corporate opportunism or just a creative and effective way to raise much-needed revenue?

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Much is being said about advertising on report cards in some Colorado school districts, and not all of it is good. 'Where do we say, No, that's not appropriate?' asked one parent in a recent Huffington Post article. Lorie Gillis, the chief financial officer for the Jefferson County School District in Colorado, expressed to Colorado 9 News her concern about commercialization in the schools.

Back in 2007, Orlando, Florida schools sent report cards home in envelopes bearing the image of Ronald McDonald and advertising free Happy Meals for students with good grades or attendance. The move drew criticism from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), a national coalition 'devoted to limiting the impact of commercial culture on children', according to its website.

The CCFC outcry was enough to stop Orlando schools from continuing with the practice. But can any idea that generates money for public schools, which are being hurt by severe budget cuts, be all bad? And it's not like kids are being peddled anything inappropriate. Alcohol is taboo. So is tobacco and junk food. And ads relating to religion or politics are prohibited.

And maybe offering Happy Meals for good grades did direct kids to food with high caloric and fat content, but what of the advertising appearing in those Colorado report cards? These ads are being placed by CollegeInvest, a nonprofit organization that helps parents arrange savings plans for college. The organization advocates starting early to plan for college, and targeting the parents of elementary school students seems logical and fairly innocuous.

Every Little Bit Counts

So is offering advertising space in schools having an impact on budget gaps? Not nearly enough, say school officials. For instance, the revenue generated by the CollegeInvest ads equals about $30,000 per year. But funds lost in budget cuts total about $35 million for the same time period!

Still, administrators remain optimistic, and feel that the advertising route is certainly worth it. As Ms. Gillis pointed out, that $30,000 could mean '60 more laptops in the classroom.'

For the most part, parents across the nation support the idea of advertising as a way to generate income for schools. Those whose children brought home the report cards bearing the CollegeInvest ads said that the space was not distracting from the grades, and many realized the need for schools to get creative to raise money.

Beyond the Report Card

It seems that advertising is not just for report cards. There's a lot of schools out there, which means lots of prime space for sale. And schools, not to mention advertisers, are taking advantage.

In March 2011, Utah passed into law a bill that allows advertisements to be displayed on the sides of school buses. The move is expected to generate up to $1,500 per bus each year. Recently, New Jersey approved a similar bill. Ohio and Washington may soon follow suit.

The Bucks County Pennsbury School District in Pennsylvania plans to start placing advertisements on walls, lockers and even cafeteria tables. More than $400,000 is expected to be raised. And Orange County Public Schools in Florida allows advertising on its website as well as its lunch menus.

Ultimately, what people should be most upset about is that not nearly enough revenue is being generated by all this advertising. When it comes to not having enough money to support needed programs or activities, is a Happy Meal advertisement really something to get upset about?

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