Rhode Island Mulls School Bus Ads

Rhode Island is the latest state to consider advertising on school buses, a somewhat controversial practice that critics say is inappropriate but that proponents argue will aid budget shortfalls.

Al Gemma, a Democrat who serves as the deputy majority leader in the Rhode Island House of Representatives, introduced a bill two weeks ago that would generate revenues by using the sides of school buses as advertising space. Gemma said he had no specific advertiser in mind. “I don’t expect Playboy centerfold ads,” he said. “I mean discreet ads for  philanthropists, stuff that’s appropriate for school buses.”

Gemma said he had no idea if the bill would pass.

Rhode Island is not the first state to consider school bus advertising. Media Advertising in Motion, a Scottsdale, Ariz., firm that links brands like Geico and State Farm with school buses, has generated more than $3 million for school districts in Arizona and Colorado with such advertising, said the firm’s president, Jim O’Connell. O’Connell said he makes a distinction between outside-the-bus advertising, which targets other drivers and inside-the-bus advertising, which targets kids. His firm only does the former.

Josh Golin, associate director of the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said the outlook for firms like Media Advertising in Motion is good—he expects more school districts to look into school bus ads. “It’s something that’s going to become more prevalent as budgets get cut,” he said. Nevertheless, the CCFA’s position on school bus ads is that they inappropriate. “We don’t think advertising should be a compulsory part of the school day,” he said.