By Emily Wagster Pettus/The Associated Press
JACKSON — Those traditional yellow school buses might soon be decorated with advertising, if some Mississippi lawmakers get their way.
Supporters say allowing commercial messages on buses is a way to help school districts increase their local revenues when budgets are tight, while opponents say young children shouldn’t exposed to ads in a setting without parental supervision.
The House voted 94-21 last week to pass a bill that would let districts sell advertising space inside and outside school buses, starting July 1. There would be restrictions: No ads for alcohol, tobacco or junk food or for political or religious causes.
The bill is being sent to the other end of the Capitol for more debate, and one Senate Education Committee member said he has some concerns.
Sen. Lee Yancey, R-Brandon, who has two children in public schools, said advertising is already prevalent on schools’ football and baseball fields, but no one is forced to go to those places. Many children who ride buses to and from school have no other choice.
“In a way, I would want to insulate them from groups that would want to target them as consumers in a place that is totally without parental supervision,” Yancey said.
During the House debate Friday, Rep. John Mayo, D-Clarksdale, said about 10 states already allow advertising on school buses. He estimated that larger school districts could generate about $250,000 by selling the ads.
House Education Committee Chairman Cecil Brown, one of the top budget writers, argued for allowing the ads.
“This is not new ground,” Brown, D-Jackson, told the House. “You’ve got subways, buses, all over the country with advertising.”
Rep. Mark Baker, R-Brandon, tried to persuade his colleagues to allow religious advertising on school buses. He said, for example, that the local Baptist church might want to buy space.
“I agree … that this is a good idea until the Church of Satan decides they want advertising on the side of the bus,” replied Rep. Jimmy Puckett, D-Amory.
Some lawmakers said local school board members would be put in awkward legal situations if they allowed some religious groups to advertise but not others. Baker’s suggestion died, with 47 members voting for it and 69 against it.
Jolie Buchanan, a 16-year-old junior at Madison Central High School, rode the bus in elementary school and middle school but now drives herself to campus. She said selling ads might be a good way to generate money for education, and she’s not worried about children being improperly pressured to buy food or products.
“It’s just a school bus,” Buchanan said. “Kids don’t really care.”
The bill is House Bill 1233.