Deep corporate pockets?

July 22, 1991|By New York Times

AS PART of his "America 2000" plan for improving the nation's education system, President Bush proposed a privately funded corporation to help create a "new generation" of schools. That's a worthy idea -- as long as it does not thwart existing experimental efforts to improve schools.

Bush has named an 18-member board composed of prominent business, education and political leaders. They hope to raise $200 million in corporate donations for research and development to create 535 new schools by 1996.

Since education is largely a state and local responsibility, it's entirely appropriate for Washington to encourage research and experimentation. Indeed, the Department of Education already invests nearly $230 million in education research and development. More support for innovative reform is surely needed. But at what cost?

As of 1989, corporations gave an estimated $400 million in direct and indirect support to public elementary and secondary schools. Will the new organization -- known formally as the New American Schools Development Corp. -- increase the amount of corporate giving? Or will it simply redirect corporate dollars? And will corporations make a political calculation to support an administration-sponsored project rather than promising projects proposed by others?

If that's the outcome, Bush will have defeated the hope of accelerating school reform; his corporation would merely divert money from proven innovations in order to re-invent the same wheel. That puts special responsibility on the corporation to come up with new ideas and to expand promising reforms -- all while teasing more support from business.

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