Schools district leaders in New York City and Denver have announced plans to “push the envelope” in terms of linking with web companies to raise money for schools. As might be expected, controversies have emerged in both areas.

Denver’s school system expects to earn up to $1 million per year in a deal with web portal KickStart.com. The deal will earn the district approximately one cent each time someone visits the portal site for school information, uses KickStart’s preferred search engine, or buys online through the school system “mall.”

The portals, which will be built at KickStart’s expense, are intended to supplement—not replace—school and district web sites. Since these KickStart portals will contain advertising, the company will pay the school district for each screen that a user sees.

New York City education officials have announced their support for building their own internet service and web portal—and, just like commercial firms, earn revenue from advertising and sponsorship programs. City officials say the business could generate more than $100 million per year, as the site would have special appeal to nearly four million students, faculty, staff, and family members. A decision on whether to go ahead with the plan will be made in mid-November.

Proponents of the plans say that web portals are raking in money, often for guiding students around the web in school-related projects at home, in class, or in the library. The attractiveness of getting a share of that revenue is obvious, and some administrators say online malls that pay commissions (such as ASD.com and FamilyEducation) aren’t producing the anticipated revenue streams.

Opponents say making money off students is out of control already, and this just makes matters worse. They argue that administrators’ frustration with sales-commission schemes shows the fallacy of using students to provide funds for the schools in the first place.

Opponents also criticize the Denver arrangement with KickStart because the company is allowing the district to buy stock options that will generate more cash if the company’s business model succeeds. The idea that the district is somehow tied to the commercial success of the company strikes many observers as unseemly.

New York school board officials’ comments that they would use the funds to buy 85,000 laptop computers for middle school students has done little to mollify critics of the plan. A national PTA representative noted that the organization is “concerned about the potential for using class time in less than educational ways.”