Few Laws Deal With Ads in Schools

Thursday, September 14th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Eager for team uniforms and new computers, the nation's schools — with little state oversight — are making deals that bring soda machines, PG-rated movie commercials and marketing surveys onto their grounds, congressional investigators said Thursday.

``This is a cold, calculated effort,'' said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., worried that the ads may promote unhealthy or inappropriate activities or products for schoolchildren. ``Many schools and parents are not prepared for the onslaught of marketers.''

The report by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said little about whether the school ads were appropriate. It mainly looked at how states regulated everything from on-campus soda machines, company logos on athletic scoreboards and television ads on Channel One or commercial stations shown in classrooms, to corporate gifts and grants.

Only California, New York, Florida, Illinois and Maine specifically limit certain types of advertising and other commercial activity within their public school buildings, the report said.

Researchers said just 19 state laws even address school-related advertising.

Company representatives have defended their contracts and sponsorships, saying they provide valuable resources and a high-profile commitment to an embattled public education system.

Channel One, a daily news broadcast that offers free television sets and satellite dishes to schools reserving reserve time for students to watch the show, earns high ratings from teachers, says Eileen Murphy, spokeswoman for Primedia, Channel One's parent company.

She said ads on the show are approved by a committee of educators. ``We have never had a complaint,'' she said.

The report said officials rarely needed permission from parents or others to use commercial products.

Nearly all of the nation's 86,000 schools participate in some type of program, where they get cash or equipment based on the receipts or proof-of-purchase coupons.

No one has made a comprehensive count of commercial contracts in the nation's schools, though the report maintains such deals are growing.

For example, in Grand Rapids, Mich., a contract with a soft drink company guaranteed the district $30 per student, or 0.4 percent of the district's $206 million budget. In another district, not named in the report, a school rented its softball field to a production company shooting an episode of the former steamy prime-time soap, ``Melrose Place.''

Some districts bowed out of contracts because parents complained.

Current laws — mainly covering fund-raisers like candy and gift-wrap sales — were weak, varied and offered little guidance to schools boards, superintendents and principals, the report said.

Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., was troubled by the finding that many companies gathered address, ZIP code and purchasing habit information from students, a practice that school officials said they sometimes were unaware of.

``All we're trying to do is put up a warning sign,'' he said. ``The three R's should not stand for retail, resale and rebate.''


On the Net: GAO report: http://www.gao.gov/daybook/000914.htm