Bill to limit ads in schools rejected

Senate defeats measure aimed at commercialism in Md. public classrooms

March 16, 2001|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

A proposal aimed at limiting commercialism in public school classrooms was defeated yesterday by the Maryland Senate.

The measure, while less restrictive than originally proposed, would have banned advertising from school buses and limited the use of classroom materials that contain ads or commercial logos. It also would have placed restrictions on the sale of candy and soda from vending machines.

"I don't think it will be long until we have Thurgood Marshall Elementary School brought to you by Coca-Cola or some other company," said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, a Prince George's Democrat and sponsor of the legislation. "I put this bill in to put a spotlight on the issue, and we did that. ... This issue is not going away. It's only going to grow."

The Senate's 26-18 vote occurred a day after Coca-Cola Co. announced plans to scale back its soft-drink marketing efforts in schools -- a reflection of growing concerns across the nation about commercialism in classrooms.

A report last fall by the Center for the Analysis of Commercialism in Education at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee found a fourfold increase in schoolhouse commercialism over the past decade in such areas as exclusive agreements with soda companies, corporate sponsorships of school programs and lesson plans developed by corporations.

Some senators who opposed Pinsky's proposal acknowledged his concerns about marketing to children but said that schools rely on the money provided from vending machine companies and other corporate sponsors.

"Though I might agree in concept, I cannot agree we should do it now until we fully fund the Prince George's County schools," said Sen. Gloria G. Lawlah, a Prince George's Democrat.

Other senators -- Republicans and Democrats -- said regulating commercialism and vending machines in schools should be left to local school boards and principals, rather than the General Assembly. The state school board has a policy banning vending machine sale of such foods as soda and candy during school hours, though Pinsky and others testified that some schools ignore the regulations.

"To me, it boils down to whether you believe in local control of education or not," said Sen. Martin G. Madden, a Howard County Republican and the Senate minority leader.

As introduced, Pinsky's proposal -- the Captive Audience/Stop Commercialism in Schools Act of 2001 -- would have required school boards to develop policies banning commercial advertising on school buses, restricting soda and candy sales, limiting exclusive contracts with vending companies and prohibiting the purchase of textbooks with commercial logos.

The measure won support from health advocates concerned about children eating unhealthful foods. It was opposed by educators who said their schools rely on money raised from exclusive contracts with soda companies and vending machine operators.

The Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee scaled back the bill -- eliminating the clause banning exclusive contracts and emphasizing that school-business partnerships would not be affected -- before narrowly approving it last week.

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