Food For Thought

Sell the Naming Rights to Your School?

by John E. Bonfadini, Ed.D.,
Contributing Columnist
Professor Emeritus, George Mason University

John E. Bonfadini
John E. Bonfadini

Schools and state governments are continually looking for new ways to fund education without increasing taxes. The sale of commercial advertising rights in public schools is the newest method of funding that is gaining increased exposure and is being considered by many school systems.

Although the idea of advertising is not new to schools, in the past it has usually been limited to specific fundraisers. Schools have solicited advertising for publications like the yearbook, school newspaper, and various event programs. And many of us are familiar with the magazine, candy, Christmas card, and other fund-raising sales supported by schools. Recently we have seen an increase in the use of beverage machines as a funding method for many school activities. But advertising in the school environment has normally been forbidden. Contracting for general advertising campaigns on school property is another issue.

If schools begin contracting for commercial advertising, I can envision the following scenario. Walking across the campus at George Mason University, I observe two freshmen roommates meeting for the first time. The conversation goes something like this: Jack says, “Hi, Mike, I’m your new roommate, Jim Slonecker.”

Mike responds, “My last name is Kosko, but everyone calls me Chico. What school did you graduate from, Jim?’

Jim responds, “I graduated from Dr. Pepper High. You know our football team, the Peppers — our cheerleaders were the Chili Peppers. They were state champions last year. What’s your alma mater, Mike?’

Mike says, “I just finished my senior year at Coke High. Our class wanted to be called the Cokers but the school board thought the name had a negative connotation. So we finally had to settle for being called the Big Chasers. Our cafeteria was run by the Big Mac organization; my cholesterol level is almost as high as my math SAT.”

Jim laughs and says, “We had a big mural of Wendy on our cafeteria wall. The two companies collaborated on the ingredients to be used to make a special burger for us kids, which they named the Wendy-Pepper — it was spicy and had loads of peppers. Mike, I’ll let you figure out how it got its name. Then the Beano corporation made a pitch for all us kids to wear tee shirts with their logo on Wendy-Pepper meal day. Only in America. Hey, Mike — after we’re done unloading here at AOL Hall, let’s head over to the Budweiser Student Union for some pizza.”

The big school systems could command high dollars because of their school populations. In advertising, exposure count is everything. I could see Nike, Ralph Lauren, and Calvin Klein courting a county the size of Fairfax or Henrico. The school board might decide to pass a dress code requiring students to wear the sponsor’s uniform. Moms and dads might have to take on second jobs just to keep up with the uniform bills. Oh, wait — maybe I’m wrong. Most kids are wearing clothes with the company logos anyway. Why not make them pay for the privilege? That thought brings up another problem. If Nike were selected as the school sponsor, does the school ban clothes with other sports-company labels?

There is also the question of how you would limit the advertising pool to companies with the so-called “good image.” Could churches advertise? I can just see taxpayers’ money going to pay all the lawyers needed to fight the numerous lawsuits. We wouldn’t have to worry about that issue at George Mason since we have a great law school. I’m sure the university teaching professors wouldn’t mind handling these cases as part of their research time.

Sound ridiculous? Well, in my opinion, relying on advertising to support education is also ridiculous. It’s bad enough that lotteries are being used to help fund what most of us believe is the paramount function of state government. Using unreliable funding gimmicks certainly doesn’t match the election-day rhetoric from most of our elected officials. I hate the property tax as much as the next guy, but I’ve always realized you can’t buy a Lexus with a Ford income and you can’t buy a first-class education with poor funding schemes.

What’s Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to:, or send written responses to the editor.  Mail will be forwarded to the author.

Major battles are fought over the simple process of naming schools. I can’t imagine what conflicts would arise during the selection process of advertising rights. What schools don’t need is more conflict. Schools, educators and parents have enough to handle dealing with all the testing schemes. My oldest son, who has been teaching for 13 years, said at the dinner table the other night, “Dad, I’m just not sure people really care about education.” If you knew him, you’d be concerned that this type of person and teacher would have doubts about the public’s commitment to education. As the general assembly begins to deal with the pressures of developing a state budget, citizens need to make sure that the political commitments made to education in November are implemented in February.

Not the Place

Advertising is a great American tradition, but there are some places where billboards should be absent. As my grandkids travel along the highway of education, they don’t need to be distracted by signs that remind them how far they are from “South of the Border.” There are already enough distractions in the school environment: Just say “NO” to the advertising concept.

Be sure and tune in next month for our first Teacher Honor Roll!


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