Looking For Cash, Schools Agree To Ads

Bake sales and car washes to raise money for local schools have long been part of the American tradition. But those humble fund-raising methods are beginning to look quaint compared to today's more ambitious methods of enhancing school revenue.

Some towns have turned to business partnerships. Others have set up organizations that aggressively solicit contributions from parents.

But still others are looking for even larger opportunities, and some educators are troubled by what they see as a trend toward accepting dollars in exchange for commercial opportunities. Some recent examples reported by the Education Commission of the States in Denver include:

* Over the course of four years Pepsi-Cola will pay the Bozeman, Mont., school district $120,000 to switch from Coke.

* Coca-Cola will pay the Clear Creek, Texas, school district $180,000 per year to sell Coke exclusively in its vending machines.

* Colorado Springs public schools will sell ad space on school buses and gym walls to help pay for books, lab materials, and school uniforms.

* US West will help to finance a new stadium for Jefferson County, Colo., in exchange for putting its name on the structure and becoming a provider of certain phone services to the county.

Such activities raise thorny questions for schools about "how we afford the things we want," says Mary Fulton, policy analyst for the Education Commission of the States.

As of yet, says Ms. Fulton, there's no evidence that the commercialism has "in any way infiltrated into the core of education. But it needs to be watched." At the same time, however, she adds, "when districts say they need money, it's hard to argue against."

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