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Children as Billboards: From School Buildings to Buses, a Lunge for Ads and Revenue

| March 23, 2011

advertising on school buses bluebird buses

The buses they are a-changing.

Until a few months ago, advertising was prohibited on Flagler County school district vehicles, including buses, on the district’s website, in its facilities and on uniforms. That changed last fall. Faced with budget shortfalls, the school board opened the way to advertising in schools and uniforms and on almost all district-owned vehicles. But it stopped short of allowing advertising on school buses. State law forbids it, as it does in most states.

That, too, is about to change.

A bill that would make Florida the seventh state in the nation to allow advertising on school buses won approval from the Senate Pre-K-12 Committee today. It has two more committees to clear, but chances are that it will. A similar bill failed to make it out of any committee last year. This year the budget shortfalls are more severe and lawmakers are looking for every alternative to make up for more than $1 billion they’re looking to eliminate from local school districts’ funding.

“We’re certainly interested in any revenue that might be available with the declining budget,” Mike Judd, the school district’s director of facilities, said Wednesday. The policy the district just approved will actually return to the board in April for some clarifications on billboards and advertising banners on school property. Neither is allowed explicitly by the policy.

The proposed law requires advertisers to pay all costs of retrofitting buses to accommodate advertising. It forbids tobacco and alcohol advertising, sexually suggestive advertising or “material that is sexual in nature” (forget those condom ads, Trojan), or ads that “contain material that is not child- and community-sensitive.” It forbids school districts from endorsing or implying an endorsement of the advertising. The local school board will define how and where the ads may go and what their design may be, so long as the ads don’t cover lettering identifying the bus, windows, doors and equipment. No more than two ads may be displayed at any given time.

All revenue goes to the school district, not the state, but 50 percent of the revenue must go to the district’s transportation department, and 50 percent must go to the district’s general revenue pot for allocation to be determined by the board.

The Flagler school district transports 11,000 students a day on 96 routes, through 1,368 bus stops, traveling 1.8 million miles in a year, at a cost of $5 million, only $2 million of which is reimbursed by the state. defraying that cost locally would help the district considerably. Michael Beauchamp, president of Alpha Media, an ad agency that manages advertising on 3,000 school buses in Texas and Arizona, told USA Today that advertising on 100 buses would generate, on average, $125,000 a year. (“Your message can now been seen on the side of a bright yellow school bus like a rolling billboard!,” the company chants on its website.)

The bill is sponsored by Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee. Montford, who started his career as a math teacher, is the head of the state superintendent association and was a Leon County school superintendent for many years. The proposed law would ” make absolutely sure the integrity of the school bus is not jeopardized,” Montford told the News Service of Florida today. “It’s actually more restrictive than the current practice of advertising on some athletic facilities.”

The Flagler school district has accepted advertising at its athletic facilities, though since enacting its more permissive ad policy, no inquiries have been made by potential advertisers. School buses are a more attractive target to advertisers because the buses run twice a day, have high visibility, and travel slowly. In Flagler County, where there’s not much of a public transportation system (the county’s on-demand transportation fleet accepts advertising too), school bus advertising would be similar to mass transit bus advertising. New Jersey started allowing school bus advertising in January. Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Tennessee and Texas already do so. Florida is one of five states—Kentucky, Oklahoma, Utah and Washington are the others—considering adding the allowance.

Advertising on school buses is not as simple as it may sound. When a student newspaper in California in the mid-1980s accepted a military recruiting ad but turned down an anti-draft ad, a lawsuit followed and the school district lost when the court said that once the district accepted one type of ad, the space took on the make-up of a “limited public forum,” so similar type ads had to be accepted. In December 1993, a federal district judge ruled that a Boston mass transit authority’s “G-rated” advertising policy violated the First Amendment. An agency wanted to advertise a public service ad about condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS.  The authority rejected the ad. The agency, the court ruled, “cannot open its transit car doors to public service advertising and hang only its favorite posters.”

Other objections to advertising on school buses have been raised, including claims that it makes buses less safe by distracting drivers and making crashes more likely. That claim has not been strongly backed by evidence. There are also objections to turning school buses into billboards and commercializing children, or turning school district into corporate-sponsored adjuncts.

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24 Responses for “Children as Billboards: From School Buildings to Buses, a Lunge for Ads and Revenue”

  1. Jim Guines says:

    Here comes what looks like a big idea to make some money for the school system with the anticipated income already divided up with 50% going to transportation and 50% going to the general fund. Should this be part of a policy statment? Looks like someone is attemping to use policy to build departmental budgets.

  2. palmcoaster says:

    Advertising in 100 school buses for only 125,000 revenue total a year ONLY for the school district? Who is making themselves millionaires with this scam? Does anyone know how much a page or partial advertisement cost in any magazine or newspaper per issue for one year presented daily?, a fortune!
    Please find out and you will see the rip off proposed by this “well connected Alpha agency” to the schools. If a yes to school buses advertisement is voted I will sure get 3 bids at least from 3 different media agencies. All this after giving serious consideration of the dangers posed to our children on those buses with drivers around distracted by the ads on the bus.
    Will be the same rip off to our students by the very profitable business of the well known “Year Book” that has become so costly to students and parents, in spite of the little fortune the publisher makes.
    Kind of like the Girls Scout cookies, who really makes the dough!

  3. Yellowstone says:

    Hasn’t this argument been resolved when the school vending machines contained only certain vendors? How about the sports scoreboards, fences, etc. plastered with ads?

    What’s next – will we eventually see ballgames: Mantanzas Exon Pumpers vs: the Mainline Gander Mountaineers?

  4. Tom Brown says:

    Of course, “sexually suggestive” ads, such as warnings to wear condoms to avoid HIV, will be forbidden, but military recruiting ads will probably be perfectly OK. We can add Libya to the exciting travel destinations for our 18-year-olds.

  5. dlf says:

    Most of the above comments are by the same group that cry because we cannot pay the current education bill. This is the same group that cries that big business is screwing the little guy. This is the same group that wants to tax the rich and big business. Instead of crying, why not come up with some suggestions that work, higher wages do not work, higher tax on big business will not work since they pass that on to the general population.. How about increase in property tax, Do away with programs that are not working, do away with a paid school board $180,000 -$200,000 per year. Maybe then we would not be crying about big business making a profit and still paying their fair share.. Yes, these companies that advertised on the school bus are doing it to make a profit, same as the TV commercials we see. Maybe, Microsoft will run some ads, since they are a BIG business that gives a lot of money to charity and the schools in the USA. Bill Gates should run an ad telling us how screwed up the schools are in the USA, and he is right. But, again this is BIG business making a profit and screwing the little guy.
    Tom, seems to be the only one who made a valid point.

  6. Yellowstone says:

    You know dlf – you are right! These kids today grow up in an environment that surrounds them with ads of all sorts. They can chose to read them or ignore them.

    Some of us grew up in a small rural community that had little commercial busines; packing houses, and farmers. Ads where never commonplace.

    During my career days I spent weeks in Europe developing what is know as Internet Advertising (those gawd-awful ads that popup on your screen). I took the American side of the argument opposing them.

    Little did I realize at the time the 10s of billions of dollars spent on advertising – now hundreds!

    Today those ads, and many others, are pasted in our faces – and we accept them.

    Where will it end? is there no place sacred? When will I see ads for Bibles in church? Funeral home ads?

    Dlf, in all respect to you and to those who agree, money does talk and walk. People don’t count anymore – until they pay at the register.

  7. Mike says:

    If the idea is properly implemented to SAVE jobs, as opposed to Scott’s warped vision of destroying people’s livelihoods, I say go for it. And if anybody complains and does not like it, tough. Raise the whiners’ taxes instead. You cannot have it both ways, people. Wake up and smell your rancid governor.

  8. palmcoaster says:

    dfl, as usual your rant from you and people in your group defending the obviously unjustifiable. Now at least at the end sure you just said it! The big business greed screwing the little guy, the only reality in your words.

  9. dlf says:

    palmcoast:: the little guy; you so often refer to is a little guy because he chose to be one. If he could be screwing the other little guy he would do it and my bet is you are one of the little guys not because you want to be but you are for various reasons.All of them your own fault, lack of education, not wanting to work, the feeling that you are entitled to what the big guy has with out working for. You can scream all you want about the little guy but there are many who are making it and not waiting for the government to come to their rescue, but by hard work and not spending their time crying about how they are being taken advantage of.

  10. palmcoaster says:

    I just said if they will vote yes on it…get bids and do not be ripped off by just the one shove down the district’s throat. If you dfl like to be financially plucked and bled…go ahead and enjoy it! Most of us don’t! Maybe you speak to fulfill your personal agenda here and not the general interest of most in this community. Your same distorted, derogative I could described as cockroach rhetoric that as well keep on coming up like those bugs that we flush down the toilette, just to see them float back again. Individuals like you help promote the ongoing demise of our American Middle Society by spreading baseless statements. Whoever has time can read this 2002 editorial fatefully documenting and predicting then, a current even more ravaged American Middle Society of today.

  11. dlf says:

    Palmcoaster: I read the article and what a bunch of crap, but again it was in part published by the NYT and we all know what a great shape New York city and state are in. There is nothing wrong with the middle class they are doing the best they can when you consider that 35% of the American public is on some kind of government dole. Who is supporting this 35% is the middle class in part. My point is still stop crying and blaming everyone else for the condition you are in, get off your ass and do something to improve it besides whining.I see we do have sufficient money in the government bank to start another war, the missile we are firing 10-15 to date cost about $1.5 million apiece. That money would go along way to helping our educational system. I don’t here anyone telling us we are over there for the oil and maybe we are, would not be the first time.

  12. palmcoaster says:

    At least we agree in something, this undeclared 3rd war waste that we can’t afford. And also we agree that we are there for the oil too, like we were before with Cheney and Bush based on lies. Bush in and out took 11 years so far and 6,000 of our brave ones lives and keep counting. Very sad. Why the heck don’t we let these people fight the battles they pick each other and we stay the heck out. No light at the end of the tunnel yet. Now out of the blue we are firing missiles and loosing F15’s in a new front. No one keeps their promises. We are really sc…ed.

  13. BW says:

    I think it’s a great idea and great opportunity. Obviously there has to be guidelines and it sounds as though they are pretty sound. This idea that it makes the buses less safe is absurd. Ads are commonplace on public transportation buses all over and that argument is not raised. Apparently anyone not considered a ‘child’ by these groups is unimportant? I love the idea of selling ad space in the athletic areas in our schools. This is great opportunity to support our schools and local businesses or organizations. It doesn’t “commercialize” children and those types of arguments are absurd. I love how we are faced with budget shortfalls and every time good ideas are presented so many want to jump on with putting up barriers and making up absurd reason not to do things.

  14. palmcoaster says:

    This fresh from the oven, new report written specially for dfl that still promotes more tax breaks for the elite 1% and wealthy corporations above us.

  15. dlf says:

    Palmcoaster: there you go crying again wanting to blame the elite who have worked for their piece of the pie and who provide jobs for us non -elite. Did you notice that General Electric did not pay any tax last year. Do you know who is buddy buddy with our socialist president the CEO of GE, in fact he heads up the committee for Obama to find jobs for us non -elite. Oh,. I forgot you are collecting your government dole money and crying about how you have been cheated all your life. Stop worrying about the others who as a group pay for your dole money, there has always been a have not and a have group, live with it. How much tax do you think our socialist President paid in tax? He went from a community organizer to a millionaire without ever holding a real job, do you feel bad? Who do you think pays the majority of the tax money our elected officals throw away, it just is not us non-elite or the other30-40% of the USA who pay zero tax.

  16. Dorothea says:


    General Electric, according to news sources, filed a 24,000 page tax return and took advantage of all the corporate loopholes afforded them by IRS law. President Obama wants to lower corporate taxes, while removing the corporate loopholes that allow corporations like GE to avoid paying taxes. Sounds like a good idea to me.

  17. Roy Ostapko says:

    Thank you for the article.

    Education’s focus should be on teaching.

    Advertise is defined as adverting attention.

    Let’s have one message to our children: education

    On a side note my son now is treated to a DS game machine in school.

    Shame on corporate America & sadly also our Board of Education.

    Roy Ostapko

  18. palmcoaster says:

    Dfl, looks like I really “steer up your wasp nest” with my words and the very informative links. For your info I enjoy a very comfortable financial situation in my life, but does not blind me to the extreme of making me ignore the current hardships of our middle society and our workers. I am not selfish nor driven by greed. This is why I agree and also hope for the recall of some of this recently elected GOP governors and legislators wanting to privatized it all.

  19. palmcoaster says:

    By the way totally agree with Roy Ostapko.

  20. palmcoaster says:

    Dfl, these corporate tax exemptions shown next, are what promote our school system budget cuts, teachers lay off’s and affects our students education;

  21. dlf says:

    Dorothea: you make a good point, GE had to file a 24,000 page tax return, do you think anyone at the IRS read it or understood it? This is the same IRS ,that paid over $38 million dollars to people in our prisons in Florida alone, country wide I think the number was $128 million,another job well done by our government. Good point by Roy, this is the same board that we pay $30-35,000 a year per member to improve the educational system.

  22. Dorothea says:


    My point is that the corporate tax code has too many loopholes and too many profitable corporations avoid paying taxes altogether. So let’s support the President in his effort to eliminate the loopholes and lower corporate taxes, but still take in more corporate tax dollars. Unless, for some reason, you think it’s a bad idea because the President and the Democrats support this concept.

    As for the Florida inmates who defraud the government of tax money, you have mentioned that more than a few times. Seems like the problem rests with of the Florida Department of Corrections, which is supposed to check outgoing mail, not the IRS. The IRS just feeds simple returns into a computer and if the figures match and the Socials are correct, a refund is issued. Unless, of course, you think that we need to hire additional IRS agents to manually check every return.

  23. dlf says:

    Dorothea: again you come up with some way to blame someone else for the poor job our government officials are doing The IRS issues the checks based on some fraudulent paperwork from the prisoners and they paid the claims.There was some talk that the IRS employees were in with the prisoners, surprise, surprise. You have been one of many; who have posted demands to increase the tax on these companies and the rich. Now we know that many of the people Obama appointed did not pay any tax they owed and now the CEO of GE is not paying any tax for one of the largest companies in the USA , I guess you want to tax only the ones who are not in bed with the president?

  24. Dorothea says:


    I hope that anyone here who reads my comment comprehends what I actually wrote. Either you can’t read, can’t comprehend, or are just too stuck in your political rut to face facts.

    So there was some “talk” that the IRS was in cahoots with the prisoners. Who told you that, Glen Beck?

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