Got school bus?

That could be the new refrain if a bill allowing New Jersey school districts to raise money by selling bus advertising moves successfully through the Legislature.

The bipartisan measure, advanced Thursday by the Assembly Education Committee, would allow districts to sell ad space on the outside of buses they own or lease.

The bill does not address bus service that has been outsourced, though committee members expressed interest in extending the measure to transportation contractors if the idea proves successful.

Selling ad space is "a tool" to help cash-strapped districts, Assemblyman Scott Rudder (R., Burlington), the bill's sponsor, said in the hearing.

Under the measure, half the money generated would have to be used to defray districts' transportation-fuel costs. The rest could be spent as district officials saw fit.

School boards would have to approve the size and age-appropriateness of ads. Districts would decide the number of ads and set rates.

Political ads and those for alcohol and tobacco would be prohibited. The state education commissioner would have the final say about potentially offensive ads.

A similar bill went nowhere in the last legislative session, but that was before Gov. Christie cut nearly $820 million from the current school year's education budget.

That action - on top of a $475 million midterm aid reduction in the last school year - resulted in cuts in staff and programs, larger classes, and, in some cases, new or increased activity fees.

Districts said there was potential in the new funding opportunity.

Bryan C. McGair, Medford's assistant superintendent for finance and support services, said in written testimony submitted to the committee that advertising on the district's 70 buses could generate $350,000 a year.

"Now more than ever is the time to remove some of the revenue shackles from local school districts in order for us to truly generate sustainable alternative revenues," McGair wrote.

Emily Capella, superintendent of the Lenape Regional High School District in Burlington County, said she favored allowing the ads as long as their content didn't conflict with schools' educational mission.

"In this day and age, any way we can raise revenue is a good thing," said Capella, contacted after the unanimous vote.

If the bill passes, "we will pursue it," said Pat Austin, business administrator of the Pemberton Township School District.

Dennis Nettleton, Austin's counterpart in Evesham, said he thought his board would consider the funding stream if it became available.

"We're looking at any place where we can generate new revenues," he said, noting that district-owned buses accounted for 70 percent of its transportation.

About a half-dozen states, including Colorado, Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, Tennessee, and Texas, allow bus advertising. A handful more are considering school bus ads. Proponents say it practically amounts to free money, but opponents object to the blatant commercialization.

If the law is enacted in New Jersey, the state education commissioner must review the advertisements within a year and report to the governor.

Contact staff writer Rita Giordano at 856-779-3841 or rgiordano@phillynews.com.
This article contains information from the Associated Press.