Lawmakers on Board With Ads on School Buses

By: Lilly Rockwell, The News Service of Florida
By: Lilly Rockwell, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, March 23, 2011 --

This school bus is brought to you by…Coca-Cola?

Corporate-sponsored school buses could become a reality under a bill that permits advertising on school buses, seen as a way to bring in much-needed dollars for school districts to spend on transportation.

The measure (SB 1124, HB 109), sponsored by Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, would permit only 2-by-6-feet advertisements that meet a long list of criteria, including no sexual images, tobacco or alcohol products, or anything that is not “child and community sensitive.” The bill also prohibits political ads on school buses and requires reimbursement of any cost of installing or printing the advertisement.

“It provides an investment-free source of revenue for school districts,” said Montford, a former school superintendent and the current head of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents. He pleaded the case that school districts are in dire need of money to pay for transportation.

The bill requires that 50 percent of money earned from ads is used toward school district transportation with another 40 percent going toward programs as determined by the school district. The remaining 10 percent goes toward driver education programs.

Montford said school districts in another state with a bus fleet of 200 made $250,000 a year from school bus ads.

The bill is gaining ground in the Legislature, with the Senate Pre-K-12 Committee approving it on Wednesday. It has two more committee stops in the Senate. The bill has made more headway this year than a similar proposal last year, which didn’t make it out of any committees.

What types of ads are permitted would be up to the school district, Montford said.

“The intent is to make absolutely sure the integrity of the school bus is not jeopardized,” Montford said. “It’s actually more restrictive than the current practice of advertising on some athletic facilities.”

School buses are traditionally yellow and advertising-free for safety reasons. How a school bus must look is even spelled out by the Department of Education, and all buses must use the same paint and black trim.

A Senate staff analysis of the proposal raised questions about the constitutionality of rejecting certain ads over others, but concluded that the bill is written in such a way that it is not likely to be challenged in court. However, the measure could make school districts vulnerable to lawsuits if they adopt policies that specifically reject or accept certain sponsors.


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