April 9, 2010
By: Jonathan Berr
Plummeting tax revenue and shrinking budgets have put an unprecedented amount of stress on America’s educational system — and Corporate America has been stepping in to help. Companies like Target (TGT), Campbell Soup (CPB) and Procter & Gamble (PG) are increasingly putting up the money for everything from team uniforms to lesson plans.
While these companies may seem like saviors to some, many parents and education advocates worry that they can cross a line between corporate charity and blatant attempts to market to kids. Schools argue they have nowhere else to turn — and, in many cases, they’re right.
At least 29 states and the District of Columbia have cut spending on K-12 education, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. California, Hawaii, Michigan and Mississippi have drastically slashed school budgets, the report says. And more reductions are on the way. In Virginia and Mississippi, for instance, governors are proposing K-12 budgets cuts of 11% and 9%, respectively.
Corporate Sponsorships: A Necessary Evil?
“There are many districts and states (not to mention university systems) that are facing severe budget cuts,” says Doug Lynch, vice dean at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education. “Are these children going away? Have their education needs diminished? Nope, that isn’t what is driving these cuts. The needs are the same or increasing, it is the resources that are scarcer. So, we can put our heads in the sand and talk about what ought to be or what might be, or we can be creative about solutions. I think most superintendents put their kids first, and so the question is: Which is the lesser of two evils — doing without, or finding creative ways of doing business?”
The end result, Lynch says, is that schools need to be “more entrepreneurial” to survive.
Entrepreneurial indeed. Even the National PTA is working with corporations to create programs that will “positively affect the bottom line” for thousands of schools across the country. “We’re looking more and more at our friends on the business side for their generosity and investment in children and education,” wrote Charles Saylors, president of the organization.
Public schools in San Diego County, Calif., are seeking corporate sponsors to help them fund extracurricular activities.Target is already offering scholarships to an outdoor education school in the area, while Kaiser Permanente is helping to fund a nutritional program for the county’s schools, according to Jim Easterbrooks, a spokesman for the San Diego County Office of Education.
“We are not going to sell anything on the backs of kids,” says Easterbrooks, whose district serves 500,000 students.
Turn Labels Into Minivans
Some corporate sponsorship efforts are a little less subtle. Procter & Gamble, the world’s largest consumer products maker, provides school curriculum material, including lesson plans and videos featuring Crest toothpaste, Puffs tissues and Always feminine hygiene products. Other popular programs, such as Campbell Soup’s Labels for Education and General Mills’s (GIS) Boxtops for Education initiatives, encourage students and teachers to buy the company’s products in order to redeem labels, coupons or box tops for cash, supplies, equipment and even vehicles. Campbell’s program, which has been around since 1973, awards schools roughly five minivans a year.