Driven by state budget woes, one California high school teacher found a provocative way to pay for classroom supplies: ads on test papers.
Due to a state budget not keeping pace with rising costs, calculus teacher Tom Farber was finding the cost of paper prohibitive.
So on Back to School Night, he asked if parents could "sponsor" a test or quiz.
It's come to this: selling ad space on school tests.
Farber collected checks for $270 that night.
It might seem like a nominal haul, but the teacher was ecstatic.
"It's pretty standard that we don't have enough money from the state for supplies every year," says Farber, a nine-year veteran of the Poway Unified School District, one of the more affluent districts in the county. "But this year was the worst ever. This is the first time I've ever addressed the budget with parents.
It's outrageous. Something has to give."
Farber says Rancho Bernardo parents have the means and the motivation to step forward.
"Hey, I've got smart kids - and good kids - and the parents don't generally have to worry about these kids studying hard and getting good grades," he says. "But when I look at the budget situation and how it hits here, I can't help but be concerned about how this affects schools where the parents don't have the means to step in."
Look at the numbers.
Farber has 167 students.
He teaches seven chapters to his classes each semester.
He gives a quiz and a test for each chapter, and a five-page final exam.
That's 9,018 test pages each semester. Each sheet of printed, collated test paper costs 3 cents.
That means his total paper cost is $270.54 per semester.
His semester allotment for "publications" (including paper) is $158.10.
So forget the practice sheets Farber used to pass out.
And even if you add the $62.50 a teacher gets for all other supplies (markers, overheads, lightbulbs, etc.) the paper cost alone still isn't covered.
So Farber took a cue from the corporate world: sponsorships.
The going rate to sponsor a quiz is $10; $20 for a chapter test.
The semester final exam is a premium buy, at $30.
Sponsors/parents get one line at the bottom of the first test page.
They may pick an inspirational quote, such as this from the chapter-five quiz: "Good luck, but remember knowledge is more important than luck." This sponsor remained anonymous.
Another went for inspiration mixed with promotion: "Brace Yourself for a Great Semester!" Braces by Henry, Stephen P. Henry, D.M.D."
What hath been wrought?
Test sponsorships currently are not a problem - they are one man's solution, a pragmatic but slippery-slope approach to an unwieldy fiscal problem.
If you need paper to teach kids, is it okay to sell ads on their tests?
If your family is starving, is it immoral to steal a loaf of bread to feed them?
Sorry. Is there money in the budget to keep philosophy in the curriculum?
Farber Student's have a refreshingly informed take on their commercially tinged calculus test papers.
"Academically, it didn't affect me," says Alex Flood, a 16-year-old junior. "But it was weird to know someone had paid to advertise on a math test. I wouldn't like it if huge companies started doing this in public schools. I'm okay with local stores doing it."
Friends Ena Hodzic and Kristy Foss are 17-year-old seniors.
Foss is here in Farber's tidy classroom to take her quiz; Hodzic is waiting to see if Farber has graded hers, taken in an earlier period.