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School-Corporate Partnership Programs

Corporate Sponsorship and Public Schools: A Critical Inquiry


Significant controversy surrounds the relatively recent emergence of corporate sponsorship in public schools; much of this controversy surrounds the perception of conflicting agendas embodied by economically driven corporations and socially minded schools. The blending of the social, economic, and political spheres of American society, an effect of globalization, has provided the context within which corporate sponsorship is becoming more common. Opponents of corporate-school relationships highlight the role of corporate agendas in supporting childhood obesity and consumer brainwashing, with these two ills disproportionately impacting socially vulnerable populations. Proponents highlight the ability of corporate funding to infuse diminishing school budgets with much needed financing and the cultivation of parent and community involvement. This inquiry critically explored both sides of this issue, affording attention to future directions in school-corporate arrangements.


As the forces of globalization become increasingly formidable, specifically defined as the mounting fluidity in movement of people, goods, services, information, and ideas, lines between previously isolated aspects of society are evermore blurred. The social, political, and economic spheres of American society have never been more linked as they are in the twenty-first century, and this unprecedented interconnectivity has generated a wide spectrum of controversies. Public schools serve as a core institution of socialization, the context in which children are educated and prepared for life as contributing citizens. Corporations, increasingly drivers of competition and embodying more power in the global marketplace than many nation-states, are often perceived skeptically when engaging with governmental programs and policies. The role of corporate sponsorship in schools has, by extension, garnered significant condemnation as a result of multiple issues, including the influence of corporations on childhood obesity, overexposure to corporate messages, and the disproportionate targeting of socioeconomically challenged schools. Conversely, corporate sponsorship has been heralded for its ability to provide otherwise improbable incentives to students, to infuse much-needed funding into struggling schools, and to facilitate parent and community involvement. The following inquiry explores the debate surrounding corporate sponsorship in public schools, affording particular attention to advantages and disadvantages of school-corporation partnerships in terms of the social, political, and economic spheres.

Corporate sponsorship has emerged prominently during recent years in American public schools. Ideally, corporate-school partnerships represent mutually beneficial relationships through which schools garner funding and corporations are provided a new sales avenue. Both critics and proponents of corporate-school partnerships highlight, however, that interstakeholder communication is critical in order to promote the optimal relationship between corporations and schools. The missions of corporations and schools, for instance, may well be counterintuitive to one another, and, if so, clear engagement between the organizations can mediate potential problems inherent to the relationship. Skeptics of these arrangements, which vary considerably, posit that even with open communication from all stakeholders, corporate sponsorship adversely affects the interests of students.

Opposition to Corporate Sponsorship for Public Schools

Three, dominating arguments emerge against corporate sponsorship for schools, all of which highlight the underlying assumption that corporations and schools have fundamentally diverging goals. Specifically, critics highlight the role of childhood obesity, corporate brainwashing, and the targeting of struggling schools as core reasons for condemning school-corporate partnerships. According to Kelly et al., corporate sponsorship in schools is clearly contributing to the childhood obesity epidemic, with a significant portion of the corporations providing sponsorship to schools being food and beverage companies. Sponsorship from soda corporations like Pepsi Co. and fast food chains such as Pizza Hut are inherent to multiple school initiatives, ranging from sporting events to reading programs; these programs forge connections in the child's psyche between eating and drinking non-nutritious, sugary foods and beverages and physical health and learning, respectively. In an attempt to fuse the missions of schools with the corporate agenda, lines between wellness and commercial consumption become significantly weakened if not dissolved altogether.

Corporate funding is often linked to the amount of food or beverage sales conducted within the context of a school program. Kelly et al. offers the example of a candy company promising to purchase sporting equipment for a school if that school can generate $5,000 worth of sales; this represents a substantial infusion of unhealthy food into the school and surrounding community. Additionally, sales-drives and fundraisers can promote a competitive mindset among students that diverts attention from learning. Young minds are susceptible to corporate marketing, as numerous studies have highlighted, and critics of the corporate-school partnership highlight that students are systematically brainwashed in the very setting that should be promoting critical thinking and higher level thinking skills.

The brainwashing of students by corporations is particularly alarming when framing the traditional school-corporate partnership as targeting socioeconomically challenged schools. Larson asserts that corporations are cognizant of the needs of underprivileged schools and take advantage of their underfunded status; very often, these schools are populated by socioeconomically challenged families, many of which live in urban areas of the nation. Consequently, corporations are taking advantage of the social immobility of entire groups of low-income families. Overall, those who condemn school-corporate partnerships do so because of the perception that economic and political goals have no place in schools, a fundamentally social institution which should be promoting equality and justice over financial gain.

Support for Corporate Sponsorship in Schools

The converse perception, however, asserts that corporate sponsorship is not contributing to social inequalities but, rather, promoting greater equanimity through funding. The Huffington Post highlights that corporate sponsorship can generate millions of dollars per year, rejuvenate or revive struggling and dismissed programming, and supplement shrinking school budgets. For corporations, the same publication acknowledges the blow firms have experienced since the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009, with schools providing an invaluable new sales outlet to floundering organizations. In short, the argument for corporate sponsorship in schools highlights the role of financial benefit in motivating students, supporting schools, and indirectly encouraging parent and community involvement in programming.

Public school budgets are increasingly shrinking while costs of public education are rising; this represents a salient challenge to the education field in the twenty-first century. In USA Today, an examination of Wisconsin school systems' motivation for corporate partnerships highlighted the "very bleak" state of schools and the need to depend on corporate sponsorship not merely for the provision of supplemental programs but for core programming on which students have come to depend. The school systems were able to make improvements that would have been otherwise impossible, and corporate funding provided an invaluable barrier against further degradation of the area's educational infrastructures.

Undergirding the argument for corporate-school partnerships is the notion that interconnectivity between the social, economic, and political spheres represents a positive evolution in the global community. Specifically, as schools, social institutions, become more informed by corporations, essentially economically driven organizations, the political dimension of society becomes necessarily, concurrently engaged. Larson contends that the recent laws put in place to protect students from corporate agendas that would promote unhealthy eating and, by extension, childhood obesity, represent fortunate policies that do far more than prevent corporate agendas from spilling over into students' eating habits.

Additionally, an indirect but positive outcome of increasing corporate sponsorship in schools has been the boost in parent and community involvement resultant from the controversy. Parents and communities have become more participatory in aligning the school agenda with that of corporations, dismissing that which does not conform to their ideals regarding their child's education, and overall promoting corporate social responsibility. Perhaps the most fortunate outcome of corporate sponsorship in schools has yet to come; that being the embrace of schools' ideals by corporations seeking to cultivate social and environmental responsibility.

Figure I.

Figure I - Public School and Corporations


In synthesizing the literature regarding corporate sponsorship in public schools, several, overarching themes emerge with respect to the advantages and disadvantages of corporate agendas influencing school systems and, by extension, children. Opponents highlight the role of corporate sales in promoting childhood obesity and brainwashing students to uphold corporate goals and be fundamental consumers at a young age, with these effects disproportionately effecting socially vulnerable populations. Proponents of corporate sponsorship herald the ability of corporate funding to supplement floundering budgets and boost the quality of education for students while promoting community and parent involvement. From this perspective, the targeting of socioeconomically challenged schools is fortunate, indicative of a means of creating greater, social equity rather than taking advantage of underprivileged groups. Both proponents and opponents of corporate sponsorship acknowledge that these school-corporate partnerships are indicative of greater interconnectivity between the social, political, and economic spheres of American society, with the diverging perspectives emerging from the positive and negative attributes of this tri-sphere engagement.

This inquiry does not seek to derive concrete conclusions regarding the acceptance or rejection of corporate sponsorship for public schools; rather, it has provided an overview of the arguments promoting and condemning school-corporate partnerships in order to ascertain valuable conclusions. Increasingly prominent in discourse highlighting the forces of globalization and their impact on human society is the notion that purely economic goals are not sustainable ones for organizations and institutions of any kind. Consequently, corporations investing in school interests that acknowledge equality and social justice as part of their mission may be more successful than those that are purely seeking financial gain. Similarly, schools forging connections with firms solely to pad their budgets are unlikely to benefit as much as those able to align the partnership with broader, organizational goals. Just as a merger between two organizations is likely to fail if the dual cultures of the firms cannot be amalgamated, true partnerships between corporations and schools should be defined as such, with the relationship clearly delineated from its inception.

If communication between stakeholders, including the corporation, school, parents, students, and broader community context in which the relationship exists, can be maintained, controversial issues surrounding corporate sponsorship for public schools can be minimized. The greatest, inherent, and potentially insurmountable obstacle to solid, corporate-school partnerships is the conflicting missions of corporations and schools, but this conflict does not necessarily exist for all types of corporations. Socially responsible firms which produce healthy products, for example, do exist and could be viable corporate sponsors for schools; this would reduce criticism of larger corporations that produce unhealthy products. However, the alternative perspective is that these firms may not be positioned to invest the same amount of funding in schools as larger, less socially responsible firms.

The future of school-corporate partnerships rests precariously in the ability of stakeholders to synthesize their missions; this may mean that schools do not uniformly accept sponsorship from any firm willing to provide it, but, rather, seek out organizations that align more closely to their goals of a healthy, critically thinking student population. Additionally, the role of political influence on what is otherwise a social and economic issue has been a fortunate one, and future research should focus on how laws and policies can further interact with schools and corporations to promote mutually beneficial relationships that do not impede the students' well-being.


Addonizio, M. F. Private Funds for Public Schools. (Cover story). Clearing House, 74(2), 70. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database.

Addonizio reports that as of 1997 students expenses have risen to over $187 billion. The rise in expenses occurred from the rise in teacher's wages, fees paid for handicapped students, and rising cost outside the classroom. Rising expenses is also due to the rise in special education needs that must be provided based on federal laws. The article also states that while expenses are rising for public schools, there is evidence that schools in wealthy districts are not as affected as districts in non-wealthy areas. School district have sought out additional funds from donor activities, indirect donations: School District Foundations, indirect donations: Booster Clubs, just to name a few. The indirect donations are aimed to support actives that would be cut due to budget cuts. In an effort to raise funds school districts have also begun renting school facilities to other organizations.

Huffington Post. Corporate Sponsorship In Schools Can Harm Students, Experts Say.

This article says that corporate sponsorship could bring some much needed items to schools with shrinking budgets. The economic crises are also affecting corporations which have resulted in them using advertisement in the schools to make their money. Objectors to corporate sponsorship believe that it will undermine student critical thinking skills. The district feels that corporate sponsorship would generate $1 million a year, which would allow the district to bring back programs that were once cut.

I think this article is credible because it has over 50 sections in the U.S coving topics in politics, education, and so much more. The Huffington Post has won a Pulitzer.

Kelly, B., Baur, L., Bauman, A. E., & King, L.

Tobacco and alcohol sponsorship of sporting events provide insights about how food and beverage sponsorship may affect children's health. Health Promotion Journal Of Australia, 22(2), 91-96. Retrieved from EBSCO database. The authors say there is evidence that company sponsorship is contributing to children's obesity. Food and beverage company sponsorship are more popular at sporting events and school settings. They gathered evidence of popular ongoing company sponsorships from places like Pizza Hut, who host a reading program. In addition corporate programs offered by McDonald's and Pepsi that have been in place for some time. Programs such as these encourage participating students to read while promoting their products. While other participating company's programs where the requirements are not so positive. For example, a company that requires participants to purchase over 5, ooo worth of chocolate for sport equipment. Not only is chocolate unhealthy, the amount required to purchase contributes to obesity. The authors acknowledge that food and beverage corporate sponsorship is a public health issue for children, but they also acknowledge the need for other corporations to step up and assist. With the economy in the condition that it's in schools and sporting organizations will take sponsorship from where ever they can get them.

Larson, K. Commercialism in Schools. Teacher Librarian, 30(2), 27.

Retrieved from Education Research Complete. Larson states that corporations are entering underprovided schools by offering money. Opposes of corporations entering schools feel that children minds are been brain washed by corporations. Supports feel that it is natural for corporations to sponsor schools. While schools feel that they are being caught in the middle of a battle for funds that they desperately need. Corporate sponsorship only provides a drop in the bucket of the needed funds by schools. School districts have become more concerned with ethical issues with corporate sponsorship on school children. Laws have been put in place to help protect students from receiving unhealthy lunch sponsorships. Laws require that sponsorships offer healthy lunches and vending machine sell items at a responsible price. Teachers that are resulting to using online sites are required to review the site, and insure that the site is not requesting student's personal information. The article also suggests that involving parents and the community in their decisions to decrease the potential for protest.

MSNBC. Branded! Public schools court corporate sponsors.

This article discusses the many deals that have been made with schools across the county due to the decline in the education budgets. Some of the sponsorship goes beyond the naming of fields to sponsorship opportunities of libraries and cafeterias. Some corporations have gone beyond sponsorships and have begun to offer scholarships and awards. Schools that have participated in corporate sponsorships feel that the program has worked out better than planned. This article also states that there will always be concerns over commercializing the schools, but at the present time the complaints have been minimal.

I think this article is credible because it was published by NBC News digital, a brand that is part of the digital network that includes TODAY, NBC Nightly News. NBC digital has won awards such as American Copy Editors Society Award (ACES), National Headliner Award for Best TV, to name a few.

USA Today. Wisconsin schools find corporate sponsors.

This article says that there are a number of schools strapped for cash. The economic situation is "very bleak" and receiving money from corporate sponsors allows them to improve the school system. Others have objections about putting schools and city up for sale, it shows decline in value. The article says offering naming rights allows the school system to increase revenue in a declining economy.

I think this article is credible because it was published by a well-known national daily newspaper printed by Gannett Company. USA TODAY, is the nation's No. 1 newspaper in print circulation today.

Reference: Education Policy versus Commodity - Research Paper - Itchy Brains Central: Web: