Public schools in Charlotte, N.C., could go the way of modern-day sports stadiums under a proposal that would allow district officials to name rooms and other school facilities for corporate donors.
Under a plan scheduled for a vote by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board next month, everything from individual rooms to entire buildings in the 100,000- student district could be named after corporations or commercial entities that “make significant contributions.”
The proposal arose from discussions by school board members and district administrators about how to pay for a high- tech vocational high school now under construction. Voters approved a bond initiative in 1997 to pay for the project, but the funds won’t be sufficient to cover the costs of new technology for the building when it is completed in 2002, board Chairman Arthur Griffin Jr. said.
“If we’re going to have state- of-art equipment in this school, we’re going to need more help,” Mr. Griffin said.
While some school districts have allowed corporate advertising on school buses and other equipment for years, Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s proposed policy—and others like it—take commercialization in schools to a new level, according to Andrew Hagelshaw, the executive director of the Center for Commercial-Free Public Education, based in Oakland, Calif.
One district, the Columbiana public schools in Columbus, Ohio, has adopted a policy that allows donors to pay for naming rights at its new high school at a rate of $1 per square foot per year.
A recent study by the U.S. General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, found that few states have specific laws governing commercial ventures in schools. As a result, it said, local school officials are often left to make decisions about such ventures on their own. (“Most States Don’t Limit Schools’ Business Deals, GAO Says,” Sept. 20, 2000.)
Crossing the Line?
Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s plan has drawn sharp criticism from watchdog groups such as Mr. Hagelshaw’s, which argue that public schools shouldn’t be in the business of endorsing corporations and products, and that students shouldn’t have to be exposed to corporate influence and advertising without their permission.
“The proposal in Charlotte steps across the line into an unhealthy relationship between public schools and private companies,” Mr. Hagelshaw contended. “Once you’ve named part of a school building the Coke wing, or the General Electric Library, what’s wrong with naming an entire building after a corporation? This is a slippery slope, and once you start down the path, it’s hard to stop.”
But Charlotte board members say their choices are limited in a time of rising school construction costs and conservative tax policies.
“I, too, have concerns with respect to commercializing our public schools, but this is a last resort,” Mr. Griffin said. “I don’t expect very much public opposition to this, because what I hear from people here is we need to find sources of financing other than local taxes.”
A version of this article appeared in the November 15, 2000 edition of Education Week as District Mulls ‘Naming’ Rights For Businesses