Sponsors for schools

TheGlobeandMail.com – Opinions/Editorial – Sponsors for schools
April 15, 2009.

Allowing corporate sponsors to invade the public schools in return for naming rights, as Toronto’s school board has begun to do, may seem, at first blush, like the epitome of crass. “This theatre a project of McDonald’s.” “This swimming pool courtesy of Coca-Cola.” “This playing field brought to you by Kellogg’s.” But schools in less affluent neighbourhoods need help. Corporate sponsorships have great potential to give them that help, if done properly.

Future Shop, an electronics chain, hopes to donate $50,000 to each of two Toronto high schools for computer labs, under a two-month-old policy of the Toronto District School Board. The schools are to be chosen from the city’s neediest, and Future Shop wants them to be within seven kilometres of one of its stores. The labs would be painted Future Shop colours (light grey, with a red border), and possibly carry a reference to the name. A similar arrangement in Surrey, B.C. is known as the Future Leaders Tech Lab.

A slippery slope? Yes, it is, and should be. More corporations and other benefactors will want to do as Future Shop is aiming to do. The opportunities for the schools are vast, because everyone has a stake in the public schools. Fundraising is based on relationships, and the schools already have, or should have, strong relationships with their communities. More fundraising should be encouraged to ease inequities.

The public system’s inequities are enormous, and obvious. Some children arrive with every advantage, others with multiple disadvantages. At affluent Bessborough Drive School in Toronto, 91 per cent of the Grade 3 students reached or surpassed the provincial standard in reading; at Regent Park/Duke of York P.S. in the inner city, 44 per cent did. Then there are the inequities in facilities. A few years back, the parents of Bessborough, which has just 433 students, raised close to $300,000 to beautify the grounds. The school now has artificial turf.

If a private sponsor could give poor children what affluent children already have, why not? The notion of the school as a commerce-free zone is both untrue as things stand (don’t the computers have brand names?) and not useful in any event.

The inequities are not going to go away on their own. Fine to say, Change them, but how? Bar rich parents from donating? That would cause them to flee to private schools. Raise taxes, steal from health care? Both are non-starters.

That doesn’t mean the schools should fall all over themselves to raise cash, but a policy emphasizing help for the less affluent, modesty and restraint makes sense.

The public schools are a point of pride in Canada, but it would be foolish pride indeed that prevented school boards from accepting help for less affluent young people.

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