Passage of 'Apple Bill' Sought By E.D. and Computer Firm
Washington--One of the bills watched closely by the education community in the post-election session of Congress is the so-called "Apple bill"--a measure that could instantly launch the nation's schools into the computer age.
Supporters of the "computer equipment contribution act" claim that the bill, which was passed by the House of Representatives this fall, will enhance the kind of high-technology training in schools that is needed to help the U.S. in its "technology race" with Japan and other successful competitors in the international marketplace.
But some educators and politicians, wary of what they call the "crisis mentality" that they say has accompanied the increasing role of technology in the economy, question whether the bill would achieve its intended results.
The bill would give computer companies a tax writeoff of up to 200 percent of manufacturing costs for hardware donated to public schools. Proponents of the bill say from 100,000 to 130,000 new computers will be put in classrooms if the bill becomes law. Government and industry officials estimate the program would cost the government about $40 million.
Opponents of the bill contend that its passage would saddle schools with computers they do not know how to use, while companies receive government subsidies to dump products they cannot sell.
There are no restrictions in the bill on the number of contributions that may be made. If many other companies join Apple in donating large amounts of hardware, the lost tax revenues could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
After original misgivings, the Reagan Administration has "in the last couple of weeks turned around and decided to support" the bill, said Donald J. Senese, assistant secretary of education for research and improvement. Mr. Senese praised the bill's emphasis on "involving the private sector."
Representative Fortney H. Stark, Democrat of California, introduced the bill with 69 other co-sponsors this fall to promote "computer literacy" in the schools. Mr. Stark said he believes passage of the bill would improve the nation's "ability to compete in the ever more sophisticated world of computers and high technology."
Steven Jobs, chairman of the board of Apple Computers Inc., helped Mr. Stark draft the legislation--hence, the bill's nickname--and has promoted it with the slogan, "Kids Can't Wait." Mr. Jobs has promised to put an Apple computer in every school.
The bill, passed by a 232-62 vote in the House on Sept. 22, is the only pending legislation that would place computers directly in elementary and secondary schools.
Both those who favor and those who oppose the bill give it a better-than-even chance of passing in the Senate.
The House bill would allow computer manufacturers to deduct up to 200 percent of manufacturing costs from their taxes in 1983. Only computers that were produced during the previous six months, have a memory capacity of 32,000 bytes, and are compatible with other brands would qualify for writeoffs.
Under the Senate version, introduced by John C. Danforth, Republican of Missouri, companies would be eligible for a maximum writeoff of 150 percent for donating equipment in one of the next three years. The Senate version expands the gift-giving to libraries and museums.
Opponents of the bill argue that it would create the same kind of waste that they say was characteristic of other "catch-up" federal programs for education, such as the instructional-materials grants set up under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 and the National Defense Education Act of 1958.
"Teachers used to [make requests for equipment under the 1958 law] just because it was there, and then the equipment would end up on the shelf," says Howard A. Matthews, the assistant staff director for education of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee. "It was the same kind of crisis mentality, the same impatience."
"We were supposed to teach kids calculus in kindergarten and have them fluent in Russian by the third grade," he adds, "but there was a whole bevy of teachers that just were not of the temperament to get in a race with the Russians."
"This is a fairly generous writeoff. I don't argue with that," says John F. Jonas, a staff member of the Select Revenue Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee. "But schoolteachers ought to be able to use these things."
Ronald G. Stegall, vice president for computer marketing at the Tandy Corporation, another major manufacturer of microcomputers, agrees. "Our opinion is that a lot of these computers are going to end up in the box that they come in," he says. "We think it's better for teachers to have to submit proposals for computer grants rather than just putting a computer here and a computer there."
Adds Bill G. Aldridge, executive director of the National Science Teachers Association: "If we were talking about using [the money] for something else, I'd be for it. But what it amounts to is not impressive. There's all kinds of hardware out there now that's not being properly used."
Mr. Jonas says he has heard concerns expressed about the ability of administrators and teachers to select and implement good educational programs, but that he is confident that many schools would benefit enough to justify the program.
"There's no guarantee that you'll get administrators who will know how to use the machines," he says. "I realize there will be be some cases where people will not adequately use the equipment. But I hope that a number of administrators will know a good thing when they see it."
Because many of the machines are "'user friendly,' not purely technical," only a little knowledge of computer science is required to operate some programs, according to Mr. Jonas.
If that is the case, counters Mr. Matthews, it would be better to use traditional teaching methods to emphasize the skills computer operators need--such as methodology, data structures, and algorithms--and forget about hardware until it is cheaper.
P. Kenneth Komoski, director of the Educational Products Information Exchange (epie), insists that the installation of computers alone will not lead to "computer literacy" or effective use of the technology in schools. He says educators and parents must push for better educational software before the computer can be valuable in the classroom.
Apple officials are critical of changes made by the House and Senate in the bill that Mr. Jobs and Mr. Stark first wrote.
Michael Raskin, the director of taxes at Apple, says the company will "reconsider" its commitment to putting a computer in every school because of revisions by the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.
The House panel lowered the maximum amount of writeoffs from 30 percent to 10 percent of a company's full tax liability, and the Senate committee reduced the maximum deduction per machine from 200 percent to 150 percent of the manufacturing costs.
"We didn't see any reason for the changes--it just means that schools are going to get fewer computers," Mr. Raskin says. "We're less enthusiastic because of that, and it prompts us to reconsider what we can do. It's like they're penalizing us for being philanthropic."
Congressional committee spokesmen explain that the changes were made to cut costs.
With the cost of manufacturing a computer estimated at $500 and companies receiving the maximum deduction at a 46-percent tax rate, the federal government would lose $46 million in tax revenues if 100,000 computers were donated to schools, according to Congressional and industry officials.
Education groups have called increasingly for expanded use of computers in schools.
A National Science Foundation committee last month recommended that competence in using calculators and computers be considered a basic computational skill along with addition, subtraction, and multiplication.
The groups point out that high technology already accounts for almost half of the U.S. gross national product and is becoming even more important.
According to a recent survey by Market Data Retrieval, a Westport, Conn., firm, 24,642 public schools now use computers in instruction--30 percent of all schools and an increase of 56 percent in one year.
A law similar to the Apple bill, passed last year, gives tax breaks to companies that donate computers to colleges and universities for research.
Vol. 2, Issue 12, Page 10, 14