One in three Canadian schools puts ads on its walls, and others raise funds, to pay for everything from library books and school supplies to bathroom sinks, a Canadian Teachers' Federation study suggests.

However, Quebec schools have the least advertising because of laws restricting ads targeting children 13 and under.

"In Quebec, right now, it's a success because it's been legislated," said Winston Carter, Canadian Teachers' Federation president. "If there were more provinces in Canada that offered the same type of legislation, we could have a much better handle on what's happening right now."

The results of the first numbers-based study of marketing in the school system found that ad deals with corporations, and fundraising campaigns are being used to support schools' basic needs.

"More and more, what we're seeing fundraising dollars go to is not, in fact, what we might consider a frill," said Erika Shaker, a research team member from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Shaker told a news conference in Toronto this pattern is "a symptom of the public underfunding of education."

Schools raise an estimated $200 million across Canada from ad deals and fundraising, the report said. Money is generated by selling chocolate bars, ads on campus, charging user fees, exclusive contracts with corporations, and even by selling curriculum materials, it said.

Among the report's findings:

  • Coke and Pepsi dominate deals with schools; 27 per cent of all schools have exclusive marketing contracts with the beverage companies.

  • 49 per cent of all schools raise money in order to pay for library books, and 60 per cent of elementary schools do so.

  • 30 per cent of schools have incentive programs, which encourage students and staff to purchase or use a specific company's products or services.

  • More than 79 per cent of schools charge user fees for a variety of programs.

  • 32 per cent of schools reported the presence of advertising.

Ads and deals with corporations are troubling because students are a "captive audience," said Marilies Reddig, president of the Ontario Teachers' Federation.

Ad dollars went to sinks in one case

Money raised by ad deals and fundraising went most often to library books and school trips, the survey found. But Shaker said she heard from one teacher whose school used ad dollars to buy sinks for the bathroom.

"You can argue that a sink isn't necessary, but I'd like to think that running water is something that you can expect in our schools," she said.

Schools across Canada raised an average of $15,075, the report said, but amounts ranged from a few hundred dollars to several hundred thousand dollars.

"School communities have varying degrees of capacity to fundraise and otherwise attract outside funding," the report said. "Wealthier neighbourhoods can, and do, raise more money."

Shaker said this is a problem, because schools are "intended to provide a basis for which we can overcome social and economic inequities. What private funding is doing is actually reinforcing the inequities that exist. That's the real tragedy."