A Ride to School, Brought to You by Disney

Ah, the old days when school buses were yellow, slow, and smelled funny. With state budget cuts to education around the country, more buses may soon stop being so yellow and instead become traveling billboards.  (I'm guessing they're still going slow and smelly.)

Legislatures in Florida, Missouri, and Kentucky are all considering bills to allow school buses to sport advertisements on the sides. In all three states, proponents argue that so many cuts to education budgets, the opportunity for more revenue can't be ignored. "My idea of a school bus is a little yellow school bus with happy children riding down a country road with a dog barking at the back," explained a Florida senator sponsoring the bill, according to the Orlando Sentinel. "Unfortunately, we're in times where we have to find every penny we can." Lest you think lawmakers are simply turning children over to the advertisers, the proposals don't allow alcohol and tobacco products to be advertised. 

But in Missouri, where the bill has already passed out of committee, the measure would allow ads inside the buses—meaning companies could directly target a captive audience of elementary schoolers. Mattel and Fischer-Price, get ready. All those granola parents who thought they could shut Barbie out by avoiding cable and buying some androgynous Linkin Logs: The joke's on you!

This initiative isn't even that new. Nine states already allow advertisements on bus exteriors, including Texas, Colorado and, recently, New Jersey. (California allows interior advertisements.) In Texas's Clear Creek Independent School District, "an amusement park, a home builder and a local college, among others, has earned about $110,000 a year." In Dallas County, ads are up on more than 200 buses, with plans for another 300 in the next few months. Officials are hoping the increase will yield a million dollars.

The industry is already popping. Check out companies like Alpha Media and Media Aim, which specialize in selling ads to school districts. Alpha Media even has a photo gallery with the types of ads on display. 

While across the country, many school districts are in desperate need of money, this shift marks yet another example of the market supplanting what was once a public good. School buses were something paid for by tax dollars because getting kids to school was in everyone's interest. Now, as states cut back on those obligations, districts must look to other sources. It's happening all over the place—with school sports, school lunches, etc.—but somehow the giant yellow school bus makes a particularly poignant symbol of the loss of non-commercial space.