Friday, January 21, 2011

Should Schools look to Corporate Sponsorship to Ease Financial Woes?

We are in an economy where surplus budgets simply don’t exist. Because of this, school districts are forced to balance their budgets by trimming fat; sometimes in the form of important educational services or personnel positions. Unfortunately, this kind of action is often unavoidable and results in few if any positive outcomes - students suffer because of lack of services, supplies, or technology, and the morale and overall building atmosphere among faculty and staff is negatively affected as well. A balanced budget is a must, and many districts simply don’t have any other option but to make the necessary cuts. What else can they possibly do?

When the well runs dry, searching for water in new places is always an option.

That was one line of thinking that arose from a survey of mayoral candidates in Chicago, Illinois. One candidate, William Walls III suggested easing Chicago schools’ financial woes by allowing larger corporations an opportunity to purchase naming rights for schools. This may not be a new idea, but with the struggling economic recovery it’s an idea that is beginning to look more like a possibility than a crackpot scheme.

The New York Times article Name that School, Trim that Deficit describes a possible deal between communication giant Sprint and Chicago’s largest city high school, Lane Tech where rights to apply Sprint’s namesake to the school could bring in $600,000 annually. Furthermore, sponsorship of individual classrooms by other companies could bring in more cash making the physical school buildings worth millions in yearly revenue that districts simply don’t have access to currently. The potential (and solution to current financial burdens) is almost blinding.

Any corporation willing to invest that much money in a school is going to expect more than just their logo above the main entrance. This is where it gets dangerous. Will schools begin making decisions based on the best interest of their sponsor and not their students? Also, what happens when a sponsor chooses to allow a contract to lapse, leaving a school with a far less money and a budget that is used to a healthy pocketbook?

The bottom line is that schools are in desperate need of financial support. The immediate result of corporation-sponsored schools would be an lessening of tensions for students, school personnel, tax payers, etc. but allowing large corporations to have a hand in public education could drastically change the way decisions are made. These dangers are hypothetical at this point, but by no means are the possible negative side effects limited to those mentioned here. What awaits to be seen is if the reward is worth the risk.

Not all sponsorship is good idea.

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1 Responses:

Richard Fox said...

Here in the UK, sponsorship has been a key and growing factor in our education system for quite some time, having implications far, far beyond mere naming rights.

The Labour government introduced the concept of Academy Schools, which are self-governing and able to make significant decisions about the curriculum. Initially they themselves had to raise £50,000 (about $75K) in sponsorship and there was a £2m entry fee for would-be sponsors - see this out-of-date link for background on the 'old system' -

The soon-to-be-outgoing Labour administration expanded the Academy idea rapidly - see

The current coalition government in the UK is starting to realise that maybe such curricular freedoms need to be regulated. Just two days ago they announced a review of the schools curriculum designed in part to ensure that sponsored schools are made to offer to a set of core subjects - see

Two countries - two totally different systems. Sponsorship has repaired the financial status of many UK schools and indeed turned some into shining beacons. But there have been significant downsides as well as upsides - see

So ... opening up a can of sponsorship worms in education can have implications way beyond the usual, simple 'name associations' we are used to elsewhere in the world of sponsorship.