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Highlights of BCTF Survey: Corporate Involvement in Schools

Spring 2000

High return rate indicates concern about commercialization

Staff representatives from about half of B.C.’s public schools completed and returned surveys on corporate involvement in schools (848 of 1,793 -- 47%).

This is the first time corporate involvement in B.C. schools has been studied systematically. The results therefore establish a baseline for future comparisons. There is concern that corporate involvement is increasing, especially with ever-tightening education funding, and that it is having an adverse effect on education. Awareness and policy development will likely influence future trends.

Vending machines found in almost all secondary schools

“Three years ago a number of teachers tried to get rid of the Coke and chocolate bar machines. We went armed with our board’s policy on nutritional snacks and other relevant information. You’d have thought that we’d tried to organize a mutiny. In the end, vending machines and advertising stayed.”

Nearly half of all schools in the province (49%) have at least one vending machine. This breaks down as follows:

  • 1 in 3 elementary schools (34%).
  • 9 out of 10 secondary schools (93%).
  • 28% of schools are known to be tied in to an exclusive beverage contract; more than two-thirds of high schools are.
  • Secrecy around deals is an issue: another 10% of staff reps don’t know if an exclusive contract is in place.

Nutritional mixed messages

Teachers are concerned that, while curriculum calls for teaching healthy eating habits, in-school vending machines peddle high-sugar and/or high-caffeine “juices,” “tea,” pop, and junk food.

“How do we decide what is OK to have in the school? What messages are we sending the students—that Coke is good/worthwhile? Why not cigarettes?”

  • 25% of schools have Coca-Cola® machines; 15% have an exclusive contract with Coca-Cola®.
  • 21% have Pepsi-Cola® machines; 13% have an exclusive Pepsi® contract.
  • 23% have vending machines with chips and sweets.
  • Only 16% have vending machines offering nutritious snacks.

School book and other commission sales reflect inadequate education funding

  • Virtually every elementary school (613 of 619 or 99%) has Scholastic Book® sales. “It’s so pervasive, it’s like ‘Kleenex,’?” said one teacher. “It’s not seen as a brand and therefore not recognized as corporate involvement.

“The proceeds from Scholastic Book Fairs exceed the amount allotted to the school for library materials from the school board’s annual budget.”

  • Nearly half of all elementary schools (269 of 567 or 47%) also have other book sales.
  • Schools use these programs to raise funds for cash-strapped libraries; teachers use bonus points to stock their classrooms. Some teachers say this is some children’s primary source of books and is therefore beneficial for learning.

“We love Scholastic! If the end result is that kids learn to love reading and owning books,
the ‘corporate’ aspect is not so bad!”

  • Others believe Scholastic® has a captive audience and free labour, and that teachers, students and schools really get little in return for all their hard work.
  • In 7 out of 10 schools, kids sell products such as chocolates and wrapping paper on commission.


One school’s corporate involvement: “Orca Bay ‘Read to Succeed’, Christie Brown & Co. ‘Read to Succeed’, Subway certificates for home reading, Scholastic Book orders, I-Mac computer from local credit union, milk UPC code collection, magazine sales, Owl Book Fair . . .”

  • Kids are exposed to in-school advertising: 8% of schools have ads on scoreboards and 8% (by coincidence) of school buildings have ads.
  • Kids at 61% of elementary schools collect labels, box tops, etc. as part of a corporate incentive program.

The technology tale

  • 1 in 4 schools has received corporate donations of computer hardware—23% of elementary and 30% of secondary.
  • Schools in high socio-economic status (SES) areas have an edge when it comes to computer donations: 26% of high-SES schools have received hardware donations vs. 23% of low-SES schools.

Corporate “learning” resources

  • Orca Bay (e.g. “Read to Succeed” and “Stay in School”) edges out the forestry and mining industries. 34% of schools use Orca Bay materials compared to 28% that use forestry company materials and 13% that use mining industry materials.
  • Orca Bay materials are used in 38% of elementary and 17% of secondary schools.
  • Forest industry materials are used in 29% of elementary and 22% of secondary schools.
  • Mining company materials are more widely used in secondary schools—16% versus 13% of elementary schools.

Cafeteria and food services

  • 28% of schools offer meal programs for low-income students: 26% of elementary and 35% of secondary.
  • Just over half of schools serving primarily low-SES communities offer meal programs for low-income students.
  • Students can purchase meals onsite at one-third of schools: 20% of elementary and 80% of secondary.
  • 53% of meal programs are currently publicly funded and operated; just over 30% are privately operated; the remainder are likely self-funded.
  • About 30% of private food operations are fast-food franchises such as A&W or Subway (about 9% of all food services).
  • 11% of food services employ students; 35% of food services employ support staff.
  • Information is lacking about whether private food operations provide revenue to schools or districts (20% and 37% “don’t know”); however, nearly half do not provide revenue to schools and 60% do not provide revenue to districts.
  • Students rarely receive credit for their work in private food services (8%); they actually prepare food in only 13% of private operations; they cashier in over a quarter (27%); but their primary function is distributing food (61%).


“Our school has a committee of parents and teachers working on ‘an ethical screen for any fund-raising or corporate sponsorships.’”

  • Teachers have been consulted in about half of schools with corporate involvement.
  • Students were only consulted about corporate involvement in their schools 12% of the time.
  • Staff reps were often unaware of whether parents, other staff or the school board had been consulted prior to corporate involvement.

“I am pleased to see the BCTF taking initiative in this very problematic area of corporate sponsorship. Keep up the fight for an adequately funded public school system free from corporate influence!”

Dollar values low

  • One-third of staff reps don’t know the value of corporate contributions to the school they represent.
  • Corporate contributions at one-third of schools are less than $1,000 (includes $0).
  • Schools in low-income areas are more likely to have received less than $1,000 than those in high-income neighbourhoods (45% vs. 27%).
  • 27% of high-SES schools have received contributions of $5,000 or more compared to 9% of low-SES schools.

Teacher from a small northern community: “Corporate money is limited here. More corporate deals in urban centres will create an even greater imbalance between the have and have-not districts.”

Anny Schaefer, BCTF Research, May 2000

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