When Rep. Jim Bird, R-West Jordan, introduced a bill to allow advertising on Utah school buses last year, we said the idea was interesting but not the appropriate way to pay for education. Bird is proposing the bill again, and we're no more convinced of its value this time around.
Bird's bill, HB199, would set guidelines for the ads, prohibiting sexual content and advertising that promotes alcohol, tobacco, drugs and gambling. That's sensible, if and it's a big "if" you accept that any ads are appropriate on school buses. We don't.
Children are already deluged with ads on television, the Internet and even the clothing they wear. They are encouraged to buy products or persuade their parents to buy products nearly everywhere they go. Schools already sell advertising space on playing field scoreboards, on vending machines and sometimes on televised educational programs.
Enough is enough.
Bird's rationale for the bill is that Utah schools are desperate for money, so desperate that selling ad space on buses is justified. There is no doubt of the dire state of education funding in the Beehive State: Utah sits, permanently it seems, at the bottom of state rankings on per-pupil spending.
During the recession, the Legislature has not funded growth in enrollment. Gov. Gary Herbert's proposed budget would provide new money for most of the 14,000 students expected to further crowd Utah's classes already the largest in the country next year, but the House has said it might not go along.
The dwindling commitment to education is evident in lower test scores and a gap between the academic achievement and graduation rates of white students and their minority classmates.
While we support more funding for schools, those funds should be collected in the usual ways. There are untapped revenue sources the Legislature should consider before succumbing to the easy-money lure of selling our kids' attention to commercial interests.
Herbert has proposed again this year changing from an annual to a quarterly collection of income taxes from self-employed taxpayers. That would not be a tax increase, as some opponents have said, but it would provide a hefty one-time chunk of money for education at a time schools so badly need it. The state should also collect severance tax from coal mines as it does with other extractive industries.
Increasing revenue from these traditional taxes is a better idea than plastering ads on school buses.