Empire Center: School districts should be allowed to sell naming rights

| The Daily Gazette

ALBANY — New York school districts should be allowed to pursue advertising and naming rights deals on school grounds in a bid to bring in much needed revenue, the non-profit Empire Center for Public Policy argued in a report Tuesday.

The Empire Center report outlines the legal and regulatory prohibitions of school districts using advertising as a potential revenue source, including in the state Constitution, but argues an allowance for districts could open new sources of revenue.

School districts, for instance, aren’t allowed to sell advertisements on school buses or pen deals that sign away the naming rights of athletic facilities to local banks or insurance providers.

While the Empire Center report does not argue advertising or naming rights revenue would be a massive boon to districts, it points out the money could help defray tax increases or help districts maintain the costs of athletics and extracurricular activities.

“The dollars involved will look small in the context of a typical district’s total annual budget,” Empire Center analyst Peter Murphy wrote in the report. “But giving schools discretion to pursue advertising and naming rights deals is a way of making sure every dollar counts.”

The report highlights lucrative naming rights deals that brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in districts across the country, including football stadiums named for local hospitals, banks and major corporations. For some districts, particularly larger suburban districts, those contracts were worth well in excess of $1 million over 10 years.

But those types of arrangements have been barred in New York, where the Board of Regents has adopted rules expressly prohibiting ads on school buses, billboards on school property and corporate messages on school scoreboards, according to the report.

While some lawmakers in recent years have proposed loosening the restrictions, and an allowance for districts to sign away naming rights to athletic facilities passed the Republican-controlled state Senate in recent years, the ideas doesn’t appear likely to gain traction any time soon.

Some within the broader education community may be open to at least being given the freedom to pursue advertising arrangements, but it doesn’t appear to be a pressing issue for groups representing education interests.

Bob Lowry, of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, said the superintendents group is open to giving districts limited options to approve advertisements or naming rights deals, but he opposed outright any type of advertising that would target captive students in an educational setting, such as ads tied to school announcements.

“We endorsed it as an idea to consider as an option for districts to employ if they choose,” Lowry said of the naming rights bill. The idea was one of many options raised as lawmakers looked for ways to help district raise funds during the tight budget years in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

Lowry said he suspected the group would lean against advertising on school buses, noting the New York Association for Pupil Transportation has long opposed advertising on school buses out of safety concerns.

He also said he thought the Empire Center’s analysis was a good summary of the issue and didn’t go too far in suggesting there was a windfall awaiting districts if only they were allowed to move forward on advertising or selling naming rights.

“It doesn’t oversell the idea as a silver bullet for school districts’ financial worries,” Lowry said.

A spokesman for the New York School Boards Association said the group did not currently have a position on school district advertising and that it has not “pursued any changes in the law recently.”

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