San Francisco-based School Properties has signed agreements in 20 states and one Canadian province to handle sponsorship programs, including licensing of school names and mascots, fund-raising catalogs and affinity credit cards.
Contacts with marketers will be handled by School Properties. Each state or province will form non-profit cooperatives, which will have final approval over all arrangements for their area. School districts have the option of joining the cooperatives.
The company has been arranging sponsorship of athletic and other special events in public schools since 1987, but this is the first time that it has been expanded to other school funding.
"We decided there was a need," said Elliot Steinberg, CEO of School Properties. "... Not only athletics, but all extracurricular activities in schools are in jeopardy because of budget cuts. It was just a natural outgrowth of event sponsorship."
"I think it's a great idea," said Robert Heller, a San Francisco consultant. "It will really help mobilize resources for schools."
School Properties is currently negotiating sponsorship arrangements with several national, regional and state marketers. Marketers of soda, athletic shoes and snack foods are likely to be among those sought for the sponsorships.
The price of school sponsorship is determined by the state's student population as well as company revenues, said Dr. Wes Apker, exec VP of School Properties.
Corporations will sponsor all schools in a state, not one particular district.
Sponsors are guaranteed category exclusivity. They will also have the rights to test products and hold focus groups at schools, display banners at events, and have former student athletes appear on behalf of the company.
Affinity card programs will be tested in Illinois and Utah this fall.
The sponsorship aspect of the program has met some opposition.
The plan was called "ridiculous" by Joy Noven, executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education, an advocacy group for public schools in Chicago. "This is a state issue, why we have to turn to commercialism in order to fund schools."
"It's disgusting," said Marianne Manilov, co-director of Unplug, an Oakland, Calif., group opposed to commercialism in schools. "It's got to stop. ... For the first time, school administrators who are supposed to protect our schools are selling them."
The program was developed as a way to help schools in states with education funding problems.
"When resources are so tight that schools have no money for enrichment programs, if you're not looking creatively for additional funding, you will not have them," Mr. Heller said.
The program would probably be effective for short-term fundraising, similar to that of booster clubs, said Clayton Marquardt, executive director of the Illinois Education Association. "It doesn't seem like a proper and effective way to fund schools in the long term."