New Jersey's cash-strapped public school districts are one step closer to being able to raise money by soliciting school bus advertising.
The measure, approved late last month in the Assembly, would allow ads on the outside of buses that districts own or lease.
Districts would set their own ad rates, determine how many ads are sold and their size. But ads for tobacco or alcohol products or ones that push a political agenda would not be allowed.
About half a dozen states, including Colorado, Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, Tennessee and Texas, already allow bus advertising, and a handful more are considering it.
The New Jersey bill requires boards of education to use half the revenue the ads generate to defray fuel costs for student busing. The other half could go toward school programs or services the individual districts deem appropriate.
The legislation now heads to the Senate, where Democrat Joseph F. Vitale of Woodbridge and Republican Robert M. Gordon of Fair Lawn are sponsoring the measure. It will be considered by the education committee, which has yet to schedule a hearing.
Gov. Chris Christie cut aid to schools by $812 million this year as he worked to close an $11 billion budget gap in the fiscal year that began July 1. The loss of state money spurred some districts to eliminate after-school sports and activities as a cost-cutting measure.
"The fiscal challenges that school systems around the state are facing necessitates that we think creatively about finding alternative revenue sources to lessen the burden on property taxpayers," said Assemblyman Scott Rudder of Medford.
He was one of the bill's primary sponsors in that chamber along with fellow Republican Dawn Marie Addiego of Medford and Democrats Connie Wagner of Paramus and Joan Voss of Fort Lee.
Proponents of the bill say it practically amounts to free money. Wagner says programs in other states raise as much as $1,000 per bus.
There is little opposition to the bill, but those who do object say school bus ads would amount to blatant commercialization.