If Ohio funded its public schools adequately and fairly, there would be no need for proposed legislation before the General Assembly that would allow school districts to sell advertising space on the sides of their yellow buses. But it doesn’t, so there is.
The House and Senate measures, which have bipartisan support, suggest the depths to which many districts have sunk in scrounging for new revenue to offset declining state and local tax support. The only consolation, if there is one, is that Ohio isn’t the only state considering the option of turning school buses into yet another ad venue.
Supporters admit they don’t know how much money the measures would raise. But the sponsor of the Senate bill, Sen. Joe Schiavoni (D., Canfield) says that if they help pay for school supplies or keep teachers employed, that’s good.
The bills would prohibit school bus ads for political campaigns, tobacco, gambling, alcohol or anything of a sexual nature. But they presumably would expose young people to messages for junk food and violent media.
Sadly, it’s too late to shield students from exploitative advertising. They are bombarded daily with all sorts of messages for all sorts of products.
Opponents also complain that the messages would distract other motorists, threatening road safety. But the same could be said for any billboard or outdoor electronic ad. No conclusive studies have linked vehicle crashes, injuries, or deaths to distractions from advertising.
None of this is to say that school bus ads are a swell idea. They are merely a somewhat preferable alternative to the continued default of Ohio officials on school funding issues.