Reading, 'riting and register tapes Business-school partnerships: Programs enhance schools' investment in technology.

November 15, 1996

GIANT FOOD INC. recently kicked off its eighth annual "Apples for the Students PLUS," a concept used by other groceries (including Safeway, Klein's, Super Fresh, Metro Food Market). These programs have been among the most successful business-school partnerships in memory.

For years, kids and parents have been diligently collecting register tapes and product labels, to be redeemed in exchange for computers and other equipment.

Since 1989, Giant has awarded more than $42 million worth of equipment to schools in the mid-Atlantic region. Last year, 8,250 pieces of equipment were added to Baltimore area schools through the Giant program alone -- 1,475 in Anne Arundel, 1,725 in Baltimore City, 2,266 in Baltimore County, 238 in Carroll, 369 in Harford and 2,177 in Howard. Other grocery chains contributed well over $1 million more to Maryland schools in 1995.

The worthiness of these programs notwithstanding, they create a conundrum for schools in terms of equity. Children in poorer communities typically do not reap the benefits of such initiatives because their parents often are less involved and don't buy as much.

Some argue that school systems should take funds earmarked for schools that have built well-stocked computer labs through such voluntary programs and shift them to the have-nots to keep everything as equal as possible.

Unfortunately, that would turn fund-raising and collecting from a supplementary activity, designed to reward motivated parents and children with "extras," into a system whereby some communities become solely responsible for providing basic educational tools.

It would inevitably destroy incentives to participate in these programs. What parent is going to collect register tapes knowing his or her child's school won't benefit at all?

School systems must establish a bottom-line standard for computer education and meet it with public resources. Communities that support their schools with volunteer efforts inevitably will end up with more computers, nicer band uniforms, fancier jungle gyms.

There's nothing wrong with that -- as long as government provides all the tools needed for a sound, basic education for everyone.

Pub Date: 11/15/96

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