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Originally published Wednesday, February 10, 2010 at 3:55 PM

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Guest columnist

School-bus advertising would give districts options during difficult times

The Washington Legislature should permit school districts to sell advertising space on their buses, writes Sen. Paull Shin, D-Edmonds. Senate Bill 6466 would give districts some financial flexibility during these dire budget times.

Special to The Times

LAST year, the Legislature cut more than $1 billion from our K-12 schools. We laid off 1,166 teachers and increased class sizes and made such deep cuts to education that I wonder if our schools will ever recover.

We didn't do this because we wanted to — we did it because we had no choice. Tax collections were severely down and we heard loudly from the community that you didn't want more taxes. We minimized the cuts to schools as much as we could, but it was still a painful budget for education.

Can you imagine a college professor for more than 30 years voting to lay off teachers, shut down schools and increase class sizes? That was me, and it still pains me to think about it. I've devoted my entire life to education, and yet I found myself voting to cut funding for schools.

The state's economy has continued to shrink since the Legislature balanced our budget last year and tax revenues have continued to drop. The Legislature now faces another $2.6 billion deficit on top of the $9 billion shortfall we dealt with last year. I can't imagine going back to our schools, laying off more teachers and preventing more students from getting the help they need to succeed.

That's why, when a former bus driver came to me with an idea to increase revenue for our schools, I jumped at his idea and introduced Senate Bill 6466. By allowing school districts to sell advertising on school buses, the Legislature could provide school boards with another tool for generating revenue and ensuring that children have the resources they need to learn. In tough times, we need to be creative about how we operate our government.

Contrary to the Feb. 1 Seattle Times editorial ["Don't sell out kids," Opinion], putting advertising on school buses would not create unsafe distractions to motorists. My grandchildren ride the bus to school every day and I would not promote an idea that would put them at risk.

Several other states already allow advertising on school buses and no studies have shown that advertising undermines public safety. Advertising can be seen all over our city buses and we don't hear about distracted motorists rear-ending buses. Why? Because it doesn't happen.

I trust our local school boards to set and enforce appropriate guidelines for advertising on school buses. School boards are close to their communities and know better than I what their communities need and want.

By giving them the ability to put advertising on school buses, the Legislature is allowing school districts to think outside the box and educate our children without raising taxes. This won't supplant state funding of our schools — it is just a way for local districts to raise additional funds as they see fit.

I understand that some people fear the overcommercialization of children. I fear that as well. But my greater fear is a classroom without books, schools without teachers, and a community without its future.

Sen. Paull Shin, D-Edmonds, represents the 21st District. He sits on many committees, including Higher Education & Workforce Development.

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