Editor's Note (The View From Here)

WOW!

This column may sound strange coming from a person whose livelihood depends in part on the sale of advertising space. I don’t question advertisings effectiveness. Advertising informs, communicates and affects sales. What I do question is the allocation of public funds — taxpayer dollars — to increase attendance in virtual for-profit schools.

In recent weeks, I’ve watched a number of ads on television touting the value of attending a particular virtual, for-profit school. Knowing the price of prime-time television advertising, I’ve wondered how they could afford those ads. Then I read an article in USA TODAY that gave me a little more insight… “An analysis by USA TODAY finds that online charter schools have spent millions in taxpayer dollars on advertising over the past five years, a trend that shows few signs of abating. The primary and high schools — operated online by for-profit companies but with local taxpayer support — are buying TV, radio, newspaper and Internet ads to attract students, even as brick-and-mortar public schools in the districts they serve face budget crunches.”

All I can say is WOW! The use of private monies by for-profit companies is one thing. The use of public monies that are earmarked for “education” is another. What happened to the discussions we were having about allocating more funds for “in classroom” expenses like teachers, programs and materials? All I can do is hope that a new analysis would find that the source of funds for advertising have changed from public to private dollars, and that the public dollars these institutions receive are actually going toward educating students.

Having a choice is a good thing. Healthy competition can help raise the bar and make all schools better. Knowing what choices you have is important. But herein lays the problem. I am a huge proponent of “fairness,” and somehow it does not seem fair when for-profit companies that benefit from the use of taxpayer education dollars spend the precious few education dollars available for students to benefit their own company.

Think about it. What would happen if all schools — public and private — would divert funds from educating students or taking care of the infrastructure they already have in place, and use the funds to buy primetime ads on television. The number of students is finite. More kids would not attend school, they would only change the school they were attending. I, for one, am not convinced that is where our money needs to be spent!

This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of School Planning & Management.

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