July 9, 2001

Legislative Activity

This letter was sent to the chairmen and ranking minority members of the House and Senate Education Committees.

July 9, 2001

Dear Senator:

On behalf of the members of the American Advertising Federation, I am writing to express our opposition to the Dodd/Shelby amendment (amendment number 457) on school privacy that was included in the Senate passed version of S. 1, the ESEA Reauthorization bill. While well intentioned, the amendment would have a dramatically negative impact on students and schools. I therefore urge you to oppose the amendment's inclusion in the final conference committee report.

The American Advertising Federation is the unifying voice for advertising. AAF is the only national association that represents all facets of the advertising industry - advertisers, their agencies and the media. AAF's national network of local advertising federations includes nearly 50,000 professionals in 220 federations across the country.

The Dodd/Shelby amendment would require schools to obtain parental consent before information can be collected from students for commercial purposes. This consent would be required even if the information being collected was aggregate and anonymous. Such a requirement would be a logistical nightmare and be nearly impossible to meet. In effect, it would place a virtual ban on all commercial relationships between schools and local or national companies.

The Dodd/Shelby amendment is an unnecessary addition to federal law. Existing statutes address those situations where abuses are most likely to occur. The Family and Educational Rights to Privacy Act has for the past quarter of a century required parental consent for most individually identifiable student information to third parties.

The AAF recognizes that there should be restraint on the amount of commercialism in schools. However, these are decisions that should be made at the local level. What is appropriate for a particular school or school district may not be right someplace else. But that decision is best made by educators and parents in the school district.

The Dodd/Shelby amendment would create an unprecedented infringement on local decision-making on education and interfere with a host of beneficial services to schools. Many long standing and well accepted programs could be curtailed. Programs such as book clubs, class rings and yearbooks, which all entail corporate involvement, could be negatively impacted.

AAF's concern over the amendment is shared by local school officials. The National School Boards Association (NSBA) is on record as opposing S. 290, the legislation upon which the Dodd/Shelby amendment is based. In an April letter to the Senate, the NSBA said, "This legislation would have a chilling effect on the positive productive collaborations in which local schools and businesses are currently involved . . . . Due to the complex and varied nature of these agreements, this is an issue best decided at the local level to ensure that the unique needs of the district are represented, and the values of the local community are reflected."

The Dodd/Shelby amendment would also limit the ability of educators to use the Internet as an educational tool. Because most websites track anonymous information to facilitate the online experience, and many contain advertising, schools would have the absurd requirement of obtaining prior consent for each site a student visits. This would be particularly harmful to lower income students who may have no access to the Internet in their homes.

The federal government should not require all schools - rich and poor - to march to the same drummer. It is a sad fact that many school districts are not adequately funded. Reasonable agreements with the business community can play an important role in providing needed funds and services. Unfortunately, the poorer a school district is, the more likely it is to be harmed by the Dodd/Shelby amendment.

In fact, the Dodd/Shelby amendment causes financial harm in two ways. First, the measure places a limitation on business agreements that will halt an important outside revenue source for local schools and school districts.

Secondly, there will inevitably be some agreements which the school cannot or will not terminate. These may include programs such as the aforementioned book clubs, school rings or yearbooks or corporate support for school lunch and breakfast programs. In these circumstances, the voluminous and labor intensive record keeping required by the Dodd/Shelby amendment will be an administrative and financial burden, draining precious resources from programs that more directly benefit students.

For all of these reasons, I urge you to oppose including the Dodd/Shelby amendment (amendment number 457) in the conference report for S. 1.

Thank you for your consideration.


Wallace S. Synder
President & CEO
American Advertising Federation