The Negative Effects of Corporate Sponsorships and the Need to Equalize Local and Federal Funding

     Education is important especially in today’s world and perhaps it is even more important today than any other time in history. When thinking about learning in this day and age, specifically in K-12 levels, there’s more history to learn than before, there’s more scientific discoveries that have been made and more mathematical breakthroughs to be updated on. Education is not cheap. According to the U.S. Department of Education in “No Child Left Behind – A Parents Guide,” the data provides that “more than $7,000 on average is spent per pupil by local, state and federal taxpayers” (3). Consequentially some cities and communities fall short of adequate funding for their children’s schools. As a result of these shortcomings, not every school in the U.S. is funded equally. Thousands of K-12 public schools are looking for sources of money for their children’s education in different forms. Due to budgeting problems in the K-12 educational system, schools in the U.S. increasingly have been accepting money largely in the form of corporate sponsorships which do provide a decent stream of funding, but recent evidence provided reveals its negative effects and suggests that it’s not the best funding alternative to compensate for the inequality of local and federal funding that should most definitely be equalized to give all American students a fair fighting chance of academic success.

     Thousands of schools over the past few decades have enjoyed relationships with local businesses that have provided them with financial donations and new equipment for their sports teams. The school in turn would return the favor by displaying the business’s product name or logo at school sporting events or sometimes around school campus. Today, relationships between schools and their local soda fountain and malt shops have transformed into a business transaction between a school, as a product testing market, and a large soda manufacture-distributor, as the gargantuan sized international corporate gorilla in the classroom. Parents, teachers and school board members would most likely make the following argument in favor of corporate funding: When a school’s very existence is on the line due to lack of funding, what are the local school boards, the principals and teachers to expected to do? Are they supposed to turn down funding for their school? If a soda company wants to pin up a few posters and put two or three soft drink machines on campus, what’s the harm in that? Schools that are suffering financially can’t expect the local officials to figure out a solution to the current financial problem in California’s K-12 education system. Corporate sponsorship is the only way to get the money back into our schools and anyone who thinks that every large corporation is evil and has this grand scheme in mind to take over the brains of our students with their product brands and advertisements is overreacting to the situation. Corporate funding is the way to go right now. Now in opposition to the point of view of these parents, teachers and school board members that are in favor of corporate sponsorship the more logical argument would suggest that yes, schools today are in trouble financially and something needs to be done about that, but corporate funding is not the answer because it does not hold the best interests of the students at its basis. In the long term, for our children, it would be better to just say no to corporate sponsorships. Their intention is not simply to pin up posters around the school advertising their products. In the eyes of large companies seeking growth of their product into the future generations, K-12 schools are the perfect vehicle to carry that kind of kind of product growth for them because these companies view elementary and high school students as a great testing ground for new products. If these students were volunteering their after school time to help a company with their product development and marketing research tests, that is their right to do so if they wish and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but when a corporation pushes their market research studies and product growth strategies on our children during their hours of institutional learning, that is wrong. Many K-12 teachers in the U.S. agree that corporate sponsorships can be very distracting to the student. According to “Corporate Sponsorship in B.C. Public schools,” by Cathy Hart, this aggressive type of advertising in school has been described by secondary and middle school teachers alike as a type of “in your face” advertising that “doesn’t always promote healthy choices” (148, 78). Corporate sponsorship in its very nature is a double faced lie completely lacking in transparency as Larry Kuehn explains in “What’s wrong with Commercializing of Public Education” (Kuehn). Corporations offering sponsorships to schools present themselves as well intentioned and good natured when offering donations with what might seem like a menial request for product advertisement in and around the school when really, as one school board trustee points out in Cathy Hart’s report, the greater good of the community may not be the underlining concern of the business when offering sponsorship to a school (76-77). Companies like Channel One and ZapMe! are described in the 2000 G.A.O. report, “Commercial Activities in Schools,” as companies that provide computers, cable TV to display a steady stream of advertisements to children (5). In reality this is all very damaging to the students and to the very basis of educational ethics. 

     The negative effects can already be seen today when large portion of K-12 kids are consuming mostly junk food for lunch on campus provided by their corporate sponsors, but what about the long term effects on education by global industries like Chevron for instance? What happens when a corporate sponsor isn’t just buying its future customer base from a school but switches their interests in essentially buying and entire curriculum? According to Climate Science Watch’s article, “Corporate Funding in Public Education – Is Anyone Watching?” it is noted that the Chevron Corporation is one of the biggest contributors to The National Energy Education Development Project, N.E.E.D (CSW). N.E.E.D. is an organization born out of the Carter Era that educates K-12 students across the nation in the curriculum of energy and science. In a press release issued by Chevron, “Chevron Announces California Partnership to Invest in Education and Jobs,” it was announced that in 2009 Chevron contributed “approximately $28 million” to their non-profit partners (Chevron). Other contributors to N.E.E.D. are companies such as Halliburton and B.P. who have without question littered great portions of the planet with both waste and war. These are the corporate gorillas in that classroom that are in essence directing the curriculum of energy education to our children. The Chairman of N.E.E.D. is Richard Zuercher, who is also the Manager of Nuclear Public Affairs, as shown in their annual mission statement (NEED). In regards to educating K-12 students about Nuclear power, the question must be raised: If the Manager of Nuclear Public Affairs is also the chairman of an organization that designs the curriculum that is taught to K-12 students about nuclear energy, what would stop that organization from teaching the students about the negative aspects of nuclear energy? The answer is nothing and nobody. It is clear in the recent events, in the case of Japan’s nuclear meltdown, how nuclear energy has had such a negative impact on the planet. Today scientists from across the country have confirmed that the U.S. water supply has been tainted with radiation from Japan’s meltdown, as stated in the Jakarta Post in the article, “Radiation in US Rainwater Likely from Japan” (AP). Will these facts be included in the lesson plan for generations of students to come, or will that chapter simply be skipped? This is the zenith of the negative aspects of corporate sponsorship: Buying the curriculum. For these reasons corporate funding in schools is clearly not the solution to the problem.

     As we stand today in California so far, the areas that have a higher property value enjoy, overall, a more well funded school system in their community. This is not a fair situation for our children and it also sends them a very contradictory message in America’s core values of equal opportunity. The inequality is self evident when driving through low income areas that consist of lower valued property. In these areas schools and the activity around them appear different than that of their higher income counterparts. Schools in lower income areas tend to have more foot traffic of children in front of and around the school grounds in the morning and after school due to the fact that more children walk to school in lower income communities than those of wealthier areas whom are dropped off and picked up by their parents. Often times these schools can also appear not as well kept in the general appearance of their facilities and landscaping. Schools in the more affluent communities commonly are more aesthetically beautiful with well kept school grounds, an attractive school billboard out front and an immaculate football field with two grand stands. This is not equality for our children so it should be strongly suggested that local funding for K-12 education be distributed equally between all neighboring cities within each state. Parents, teachers, school board members and residents in high property valued areas would argue in favor of the current non-equalized structure: Residents who are wise enough to be living in cities with higher property value and/or districting boundaries that include more than just residential real estate have such circumstances for a good reason. The reason is that those who work hard and are able to afford to live in more affluent neighborhoods, or in  some cases pay a little more tax on their property, deserve to have education and facilities for their children’s’ schools. This is not a communist country; on the contrary, this is a capitalistic country of opportunity for those who are willing to put forth the effort to achieve a higher status in wealth and quality of life. Those who live in urban areas may one day rise out of those poverty stricken areas little by little, but if they’re still there today then it’s not their time to experience a higher quality of life and education for their children. Perhaps if they were actually concerned about their children’s education they would actually show up to the parent-teacher conferences, join the P.T.A., or get an education themselves so they can earn more for their family and move out of the ghetto. In rebuttal to this pro-unequalized point  of view held by residents in higher valued property areas, it should be a more logical suggestion that a city that pays more property tax does deserves more in the form of community services and city maintenance funds, but a city that holds compassion for its children and that has an authentic concern about education for their future grandchildren, and their children’s children, will really look deeper into this issue and invest in the future rather than just fulfilling its immediate desires within its own locality. Children in neighboring cities are not getting enough of what they need, and when it comes to children, cities need to share their property tax revenue for K-12 schools to ensure that the standards for quality education are met all across the state. From the data shown in Daphne Kenyon’s book, “The Property Tax-School Funding Dilemma,” aside from state funding for K-12 schools, local property taxes are the second largest single source of funding in the educational system, at 28.7% (4).  Kenyon states that “[those] children in property-rich districts may have access to better education than children in property-poor districts” (6). Because of this, equalizing local funding for schools needs to replace the current educational funding paradigm. The argument that this change would be a step towards communism holds no water whatsoever. Equalizing local funding for K-12 schools is not communism. Is having municipal police and firemen funded by taxpayers communism? No, it is not because it is a service that is needed by all, and so is quality education. The standards cannot be met within the current structure. People who are poor stay poor unless they are given opportunity, and when a child is born into a poor family and attends a poorly funded school, that child is without opportunity and has little chance of making their way out of the low-income and high-crime areas. It is not to say that parents of these students in lower income cities do not care about their children’s’ education when they do not attend parent-teacher conferences, but many of these parents whom often times are single parents, work two jobs and are simply not able to come and have these meetings. Not just parents are absent from parent-teacher meetings, but according to Hedy Chang’s article, “Present, Engaged, and accounted For,” often times children from poor families do not have access to transportation to even get to school (Chang). It is certainly unfortunate that these poor families and K-12 students are stuck in this terrible predicament, and with the current structure of unequalized local funding these circumstances will neither change nor will the quality of education improve.

     A poor neighborhood depends on its future generations to bring it out of a state of poverty. Generation after generation, it has always been that way and it will always be that way. If those future generations are not given a chance to succeed in school, then there is little or no hope of improving their situation. In Carlotta Joyner’s U.S. General Accounting Office’s, G.A.O., report to congressional requestors, “State Efforts to Equalize Funding Between Wealthy and Poor School Districts,” it’s stated that “children from poor families or living in poor neighborhoods have less chance of succeeding in school” (3). The wealthier and well zoned neighboring cities of these poor areas that sit by and ignore the problems of their neighbors for decades will eventually see that the crime and poverty around them has increased greatly. At that point it will then become their problem too. As shown in Daphne Kenyon’s “The Property Tax-School Funding Dilemma,” when comparing two separate cities like Baldwin Park and Beverley Hills, it’s quite clear that such imbalance exists when historically the assessed value of those 5,542 students in Beverly Hills have been typically valued at a rate of $50,885 per pupil compared to the 13,108 students in Baldwin park that are valued at a rate of only $3,706 per pupil (9). In addition the same report shows that Baldwin Park actually has a higher tax rate at $5.48/$1,000, much more than Beverly Hills at $2.38/$1,000 (9). The playing field for adequate funding for K-12 schools is completely imbalanced. Kenyon writes that “since the 1960s, equity and adequacy concerns have prompted lawsuits across the country to challenge states’ school funding systems” (8). For the past 50 years America has been speaking out on their concerns through litigation on this issue. It’s within the best interest of every city and every state across the U.S. to continue this fight for equalized funding for K-12 students so that it can finally be instated as soon as possible.

     Funding and assessment for K-12 education on the national level is currently based on standardized test scores which are causing an imbalance in education similar to that of the situation with unequalized local funding. The No Child Left Behind Act, N.C.L.B., mandates this type of standardized assessment and has made this problem of educational inequality balloon in size. There is no reason why one school that excels should receive all the federal money to be allocated while other schools with larger classroom sizes and fewer teachers get left in the dust. How is this is a fair situation when the whole selling point of N.C.L.B. was to in fact, leave no child behind? Some members of congress and framers of N.C.L.B. who would be in favor of the current law would argue that teachers that work hard to get their K-12 students to score high on federal standardized tests do a great service not only to their community but the entire country because they set the standard and are raising the bar for education today. In order to continue this great work, additional funding is needed for these teachers and schools, so it is well deserved on their part. When students score high on their tests it would only make sense that they receive the federal money available to them for these high scores. The rest of the schools in the nation need to be aware of this beacon of excellence that the high scoring schools are displaying and catch up so that they can receive an equal allocation of federal funds. In other words, if equality in education for our children is requested then schools need to perform equally and not allow themselves to fall behind. This may sound slightly abrasive or unsympathetic, but it is never a good idea to reward mediocrity even from our schools. We should support the schools that yield the best and brightest and strongest performing students of the nation instead of lower performing students. In departing from this position, on both ends of the argument either pro-N.C.L.B. or anti-N.C.L.B., it can be agreed that teachers work hard all across the board, but now from the perspective of a pro-equalized funding point-of-view perhaps it would be more logical to suggest that the teachers in overcrowded classrooms, in underfunded and understaffed schools are the ones experiencing more difficulty and encountering more obstacles than any other teachers which is suggested by the Department of Education in their 2000 report, “Growing Pains – The Challenge of Overcrowded Schools is Here to Stay” (USDE). These schools are at a handicap that virtually excludes them from federal funding because their test scores do not qualify them for such awards. Other schools that do perform well do so because they have smaller class size, more teachers and more money to start with. If these are the schools that are raising the bar then it is evident to see why they are.  They have the resources to provide students with adequate learning time and materials, but schools that are less fortunate simply cannot accomplish what they need to when they do not have the proper funding that is required for success to even be considered a possibility. In this situation catching up is not feasible. To only focus on the strong-performing schools and ignore the ones that are struggling to qualify for federal funding is to completely ignore the growing problem of educational inequality in the U.S.

     N.C.L.B. as it stands today is not operating effectively for our students, and what it’s actually doing is failing our students. In March of 2011 the Associated Press said in the article, “Obama Presses Congress on Rewriting Education Law,” that President Obama even believes that N.C.L.B. is in need of a serious reworking (A.P.). At this point not even the president can deny that the current law is ineffective in offering equal education in schools. How does the current law intend to ensure each child gets equal education when the language in the N.C.L.B. states that the educational agencies within each state need to make sure that minority and poor students should not be educated in the more difficult or advanced curriculums unless the schools can obtain experienced and qualified teacher for them (30)? In most cases, the poorer schools do not receive the most experienced and qualified teachers, so the current law is only allowing this particular problem to continue. The use of standardized testing to grade teachers and students complicates the learning environment for K-12 children. In the New York Times 2011 article, “No Child Left Behind Act,” they state that according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress it is shown that “the student achievement grew faster during the years before the No Child Left Behind Act” (NY Times). Regardless whether the program functions correctly or not, these federal grants should be distributed equally especially when N.C.L.B. has proven itself to be a failure.

Over the past 50 years of American schools using supplemental funding methods in the form corporate funding, or using their communities’ property values for increased educational revenue while lobbying for congressional acts like N.C.L.B., the U.S. educational system is still very imbalanced today. Parents, teachers, school board members, policy makers looking for a solution to the problem of inequality in educational funding in the U.S. have a lot on their plate in this regard because this is a complicated issue on many levels; however, if they would unilaterally consider rejecting corporate funding while equalizing local and federal funding, a solution would be much closer reach than it is at today. K-12 students would learn on an equal playing field and have a fighting chance for success. Whether the negative effects of corporate funding are realized yet or not, if American schools start rejecting corporate sponsorship transactions, and if cities and states across the U.S. finally start to distribute money for their schools through equalization of local and federal funding, then this would set K-12 students on the right path to equal opportunity so that they can succeed in both school and life.  Education may be expensive but education needs to be viewed as an important investment in the future generations of children to come. Adequately and equally funded education with a curriculum that is not altered or rewritten by the corporate gorillas is terribly important to the success of each community’s, city’s, state’s and every nation’s future.



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