Corporate Sponsorship for Public Schools
March 15, 2011 4:33 PM   Subscribe

Local school district is facing a massive budget crisis and is about to lay off 1000 teachers. Not support staff, classroom teachers. I have a silly or maybe not so silly idea.

Before I go make an ass of myself, please tell me everything that is wrong with corporate or other sponsorship of public schools.

Responding educators will know that often these kinds of layoffs are just scare tactics employed for various reasons. That doesn't seem to be the case this time.

Many thanks in advance. I look forward to your thoughts on the matter.
posted by snsranch to Education (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Corporate sponsorship means advertising logos on everything from textbook covers to posters on the wall.

Corporate sponsorship leads to teachers being afraid to speak about things that might offend the corporate overlords. (Environmental science takes a big hit, for example. How about unions?)

Corporate sponsorship brings junk food, junk science, junk historical analysis into prominent display in the classroom.
posted by RedEmma at 4:39 PM on March 15, 2011 [13 favorites]

The moral problem with the idea is that once you start taking money from corporations, the corporations have influence over the school district. I think most people would agree that that's not a healthy situation. What exactly do you propose the companies will get in return for their sponsorship money?

Depending on where you live, there may also be laws against it.
posted by auto-correct at 4:39 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Imagine a school is being sponsored by, oh say, Coca-Cola. Even if Coke didn't put any pressure on the teachers, teachers are still going to feel a certain amount of discomfort with certain topics, like the effect (if any) of CO2 and sugar on tooth decay, or the correlation between soda and obesity and diabetes. Even if the teachers resist that discomfort, the administration is not going to want to risk a sponsorship.

That's a relatively innocuous example. For scarier stuff, consider corporate sponsorship of schools by oil companies like BP, private individuals like middle eastern sheiks, or corporations with clear political agendas like Fox News and MSNBC (depending on which side of that debate you're on).
posted by yeolcoatl at 4:41 PM on March 15, 2011

Lots of schools are already doing this, but it sounds like a bad idea to me. Let's put it this way: I'm real glad I did not go to "Enron Elementary. Kids are already exposed to and targeted by unhealthy levels of advertising. It's sleazy. There are 16 hours left in the day to turn them into little consumers.
posted by Hylas at 4:54 PM on March 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Can't guarantee the funding stream, either. They may fund those 1,000 teachers (out of how many?) for a while, but what happens when they decide that is WAY too much money to spend on a struggling district with limited advertising potential?

If we assume early-career-ish-but-not-new teachers in my district, 1000 teachers is a 46,000,000 budget hole they're trying to fill with layoffs (including benefits). That is a LOT of money to try to get in corporate sponsorships. It's a hell of a lot of money to try to SUSTAIN in corporate sponsorships.

You have also just perversely incentivized both the local community (assuming you fund partially through property taxes) and the state to NOT adequately fund your district.

Parents will also flip their lids. They are sending you their children for six to eight hours a day so, what, you can turn their children into passive advertising consumers? Which we KNOW is bad for kids, especially at the elementary level? I, for one, would pull my child from a corporate-sponsored school, because I go out of my way to LIMIT exposure to advertising. And I'm far from the only parent.

My district (where I am on the school board) has recently entertained the idea of corporate sponsorship in various forms. (And I got a VERY ANGRY LETTER from a man who basically wanted to sell the school to a soda company and when I pointed him to studies suggesting that soda sponsorships in schools were bad for students, he angrily wrote back that the kids were already fat, so what did it matter if they got more sugar advertising? AWESOME.) Community opinion was WILDLY against renaming schools or sports fields. Ideas that the community and the Board were willing to entertain included advertising on the "boards" in the sports fields (which we don't currently have but many schools do), individual classroom sponsorships where the corporate sponsor would pay to outfit the science lab or the greenhouse or something -- one time only purchases -- and in exchange get a little plaque by the door, and similar small-scale ideas. The community was EXTREMELY unhappy with the idea of renaming entire buildings or sports arenas, and the Board and administration were uneasy with the idea of depending on it as an income stream rather than a one-time gift.

That said, there's not been much interest in moving forward with creating a policy or with courting corporate donors, and nobody local came forward and said, "Yes, we'd love to donate a science lab!" when the discussion was in the news. So I don't think it'll go through. (I don't have a problem with the ads on the boards; I'm not sure I'm thrilled about named classrooms but I think it's tolerable. I'd never vote to rename a building for its corporate overlords.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:57 PM on March 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

If the net effect of no sponsorship = no education, then the greater loss is obviously some loss of education. However, if done correctly, you could time limit and influence limit and mitigate overall damage.

However, I'd like to see the school district who could rope in corporate sponsorships enough to cover 1000 teachers.
posted by TomMelee at 4:58 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

When they introduced Channel One, a 12-minute news program sent directly to schools, there was a lot of outcry since students were basically trading class time for watching commercials. It's not like they were giving schools equipment for free, they wanted some eyeballs on their advertising dollars.

I can only imagine the strings that would come attached with direct sponsorship of the school.

The only corporate funding that would be palatable to most is if businesses actually paid their fare share of taxes to the state/community.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 4:58 PM on March 15, 2011

I went to school in a district that had a sponsorship relationship with Dr. Pepper, which is headquartered in my home town. I obviously don't know the details of the arrangement, but all it really seemed to mean in a practical sense was that there were only Dr. Pepper products in the vending machines and a small logo on the stadium's scoreboard. I think there was a similar agreement with Frito Lay, which is also headquartered in my town. When regulations cracked down on snacks in schools we got Baked Lays in the vending machines instead of the normal ones. It didn't change what we were taught in health class or anything, as far as I know.
posted by MadamM at 5:00 PM on March 15, 2011

I should also add that I'm sure we would have had vending machines anyway, there weren't any vending machines until middle school, and this was in a large, wealthy school district that could provide a lot of eyeballs to the corporations. As for the "added advertising", what was in the vending machines was a hell of a lot less influential than what other kids were wearing, eating, and talking about. Compared to peer pressure, passive advertising didn't make that big of an impression.
posted by MadamM at 5:03 PM on March 15, 2011

You might be interested in this related question: Businesses + Education = Competitive Workforce? Also, quite a bit of related information can be found if you google for STEM education and corporate funding (such as this article). This type of corporate funding is already happening, because industry needs workers with a strong background in the sciences, technology, engineering, and math to fill in gaps when the baby boomers retire and frankly, the education that people are willing to buy for their children just isn't enough.
posted by Houstonian at 5:16 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So, while it sounds like corporate or other sponsorship is great for various projects it's just not the right means to cover a budget shortfall. That's too bad.

I can't thank you all enough for setting me straight! This is very good stuff to know.
posted by snsranch at 5:18 PM on March 15, 2011

Naomi Klein covers classroom corporate sponsorship pretty effectively in her classic book, NO LOGO. You might find it to be interesting reading; it's a few years out of date, but I think it's still highly relevant.
posted by just_ducky at 5:23 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

This was the exact premise of Daria episode 501: Fizz Ed.

I won't ruin the ending for you.
posted by namewithoutwords at 6:06 PM on March 15, 2011

In theory, this is called "paying taxes", and corporations don't like to do it last I checked.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 6:38 PM on March 15, 2011

I think you should think about it from the other direction as well. A corporation would pay to advertise in a school where it would be a good return on its investment. A failing school district with low-income students would make the company look bad and would not generate sales. If the school district still went downhill after the sponsorship that would be an expensive mistake.
posted by JJ86 at 6:42 PM on March 15, 2011

Best answer: What's happening to you sounds like "Washington Monument Syndrome". School districts are common users of this kind of grand-standing. (Though it used to be that high school football was first on the chopping block.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:51 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

There is no reason why corporate sponsorship HAS to be evil. A logo on a scoreboard, a logo on a t-shirt. It is worth checking in to. Any educator that feels like they suddenly can't discuss something because of sponsorship probably shouldn't be one to begin with.

However, what you should ask the district is, where is all the money going if not to the teachers? 1000 teachers is like 60-100 million dollars (assuming an urban district and benefits). How did they have the money when they hired all those teachers, but not now? The average expenditure per-student in the US is $8700. That's a quarter million per classroom of 30 students.

On the other hand, if they can lay off that many teachers and still have enough teachers to be in the classrooms, maybe they are doing the right thing?
posted by gjc at 7:35 PM on March 15, 2011

"How did they have the money when they hired all those teachers, but not now?"

In my state, districts are required by law to turn in/post their budgets for the next year AND do their tax levy process for the next year LONG BEFORE the state legislature gets around to the state budget. (Like, we have to be mostly done with budget by April; the legislature doesn't do budget until June at the earliest.) So even in years when the state ISN'T falling apart, we're finishing our budget, half-ish of which is from the state, two months before we have any idea what the state will be giving us!

Last year it meant we pink-slipped around a quarter of our teaching staff (A QUARTER OF THEM!), who must be notified of pink-slipping by April 1 (I believe). Everyone was pretty sure that the state would sort the budget out SOMEHOW that didn't involve firing copious quantities of teachers (that's how legislators lose their jobs), but we had no idea how much we'd get in the end and we had to plan for the worst-case scenario. We rehired fairly completely by the start of the next school year.

There are lots of other places the money could have gone to -- "negative growth" in property values leading to a drop in local tax revenues; "negative growth" in student population, leading to a drop in general state aid which is typically figured on a per-student basis; lots of excruciatingly dull stuff about how various parts of school budgets may and may not be funded; unexpected expenses due to retirements, lack of retirements, facilities issues, lawsuits, etc.; grant-funded positions that typically last three years. (The feds LOVE to give money for, oh, four new teachers and reducing class sizes, but only for three years. In theory you shift the budget in those three years to cover those teachers once the grant is gone, but in practice, if there was that room in the budget already, they'd already have hired those four teachers. So you get a lot of grant-funded people appearing and disappearing.) And of course there's plain old mismanagement.

That's why I'm sort-of curious how big the OP's district is in total; 1000 is a very different number for different-sized districts. Is it San Diego? If it's San Diego, it's related to pink-slip deadlines and state-budget uncertainties. (Also, hey, I know a few of your administrators!) Historically, most (meaning more than 50%) teachers pink-slipped due to budget uncertainty will be hired back. But I would expect with California's budget problems that you will be looking at fewer teachers and bigger class sizes. But the 1000 number isn't "really" how many teachers will be laid off in the end. Since the vast bulk of the adjustable budget is personnel, if you don't send pink-slip notices by the legally-mandated deadline, far ahead of the state budget completion, there's not much you can do to balance the budget afterwards. (If it's San Diego, papers say $150m shortfall, 92% of expenses in personnel, March 15 pink slip deadline, June state budget anticipated, and it's apparently around 12% of teaching staff.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:04 PM on March 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

However, what you should ask the district is, where is all the money going if not to the teachers?

Well, in many cases it's less the district and more the nightmarish flux in state education funding, particularly if that funding is directly tied to sales tax revenue. All of a sudden it's a recession and no one's spending money which turns into prorated budgets.

I was going to mention the relative complexities with regards to district sizes, grant funding, etc, but basically, on preview, what Eyebrows McGee said.
posted by hominid211 at 8:07 PM on March 15, 2011

You might have better luck getting corporations to pay their income taxes. That way, no need for a budget shortfall.
posted by salishsea at 11:01 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Jennifer Government actually imagines this taken to its extreme.
posted by drezdn at 5:30 AM on March 16, 2011


My son started 1st grade at public school this year. So far, about once a month, the Chick-fil-A cow shows up at their school, wanders the hall and hands out these fliers that say that the class with the most kids that show up and order fast food on Date X wins a free chicken nugget party with said cow and a free recess. [...] Then, when I picked him up from school, he and all the other kids were plastered with a giant branding sticker in the center of their little chests reminding the parents to take their kids to Chick-fil-A tonight.
posted by thebazilist at 10:51 AM on March 16, 2011

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