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Be Wary of Corporate Inroads into Education

Given the dire financial straits school districts across the country are in, it was inevitable corporate sponsorship would follow. In Los Angeles, the arrangement allows the superintendent to sign agreements up to $500,000. Larger amounts would require board approval ("Cash-strapped L.A. schools seeking corporate-naming sponsors for athletic fields, other facilities," Los Angeles Times, Dec. 16).

The district intends to seek sponsorship contracts for programs that are presently paid for out of the general budget. In return, corporations would be permitted to place their logos on the athletic field, in the cafeteria and on printed materials, in what is called branding opportunities. However, they would not be allowed to advertise.

It's hard to understand this distinction. Advertising often consists of just such placements. For example, corporations pay tennis players to display their logos on their shirts. The LAUSD rationalizes the proposal by banning logos associated with junk food or other products deemed "inappropriate" - whatever the latter means.

Defenders of the policy maintain it is an emergency measure that will be terminated when the budget crisis abates. But I see things differently. It's a little like expecting an addict to quit the habit cold turkey. Once the district gets the money, it will be nearly impossible to wean itself off the cash flow.

But worse, corporate sponsorship is only the first step toward corporate takeover. It's a Trojan horse that will have far-reaching implications. Corporations do not invest unless they expect something in return. Some will argue that there is no harm done when students see corporate logos. After all, they see them all the time when they leave the school grounds.

Fair enough. But where does this corporate involvement end? When budgets are tight, schools become desperate. Why would they next say no to allowing corporations to insert their ads in textbooks? And what would then prevent corporations from demanding that their view of controversial subjects be included? It's naive to believe that there aren't strings attached to receiving money, whether overt or covert. I think the decision by the LAUSD sets a bad precedent that will do more harm than good in the long run.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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