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updated 12/29/2010 3:59:06 PM ET 2010-12-29T20:59:06

A Utah lawmaker wants cash-strapped school districts to be allowed to sell advertising on school buses.

Utah has the nation's largest class sizes and spends less per student than any other state.

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Opponents contend that while schools could always use more money, private businesses shouldn't have to compete with school districts for sales and that children shouldn't have to be subjected to an onslaught of advertising as they go home each day.

But Rep. Jim Bird, R-West Jordan, says there's little difference between placing an ad on the side of a school bus and the plethora of ads students already see at school.

"You go to a football game at any high school along the Wasatch Front and you see banners all along the football field," Bird said in an interview. "This isn't any different than that."

He said he expects school districts could make up to $500,000 from ad sales, although billboard companies have said that figure may be too high.

'Age appropriate'
House Bill 199 would prohibit the sale of ads for any products that are illegal for minors. That includes ads for alcohol, tobacco, drugs, gambling or sexual material. Ads would also be required to be "age appropriate", although there is no definition for what that is.

But fears abound that children would be subjected to ads their parents wouldn't approve of.

Maryann Christensen, an officer in the conservative Utah Eagle Forum, told lawmakers earlier this year that she's worried kids could be exposed to ads for caffeinated drinks, video games or Planned Parenthood, among other things, that she wouldn't approve of.

"I know that it's a way for school districts to make a little extra money and sometimes the money isn't worth the exposure to the kids," she said in an interview this week.

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She said she had not seen the latest version of Bird's bill, but she's still worried about parents losing control of what their children are exposed to. She also said whether school districts like it or not, there would be a perception that the district is endorsing whatever product or service is being advertised on their buses.

While Bird's bill wouldn't require it, he's hopeful that districts would use any money gained from school bus ads to help pay for transportation so bus routes aren't eliminated. He said safety is one of his primary concerns and noted that his proposal calls for banning ads on the back of school buses where traffic signals are and that no ads could resemble a traffic control device.

The Utah Department of Transportation would also be required to make rules governing the placement and sizes of the advertisements on the rest of the bus to ensure they don't become a distraction for other drivers.

The Legislature convenes in January.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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