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Schools benefit from tax law

California companies cheer a homegrown effort that won President Clinton's approval of a tax deduction for computer donations to schools.

    California companies are cheering a homegrown effort that won President Clinton's approval of a tax deduction for computer donations to schools.

    Tacked on to the Taxpayer Relief Act signed by Clinton last week, the initiative makes it more appealing for corporations nationwide to give away fairly new computers to schools. The law states equipment must be less than two years old.

    The tax break was drafted by Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-California) as the 21st Century Classrooms Act, which lets companies deduct the donated equipment at almost the full purchase price.

    "The measure is intended to provide corporations a greater incentive to donate the right kind of quality computer equipment and technology toward K-12 education," Cunningham said during the House debate over the Taxpayer Relief Act in June. "This provision expands the tax deduction currently available to computer manufacturers making donations of high-tech equipment to university research institutions."

    Companies can use the deduction when they donate to public or private schools, a condition written by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-California) and introduced as the Computer Donation Incentive Act.

    The new deduction was pushed by California companies that donate computers, as well as groups that refurbish hardware for schools.

    "This is a tremendous boost for education technology because it encourages companies to donate more modern technology," said Diana Detwiler, executive director of the Detwiler Foundation, which refurbishes donated computers and distributes them to schools. The foundation has provided more than 32,000 computers originally donated from corporations.

    "For most companies, it will just about double the benefit they get from donating the computers. They can almost deduct the full purchase price, which is dramatically higher than the market values," she added.

    As the Net becomes a bigger part of curricula through programs like NetDay, schools will need upgrading tools to get online. Corporate donations can fill the gap, according to Jeanette Morgan, manager of government affairs for National Semiconductor.

    "It is important that we get the technology into the classrooms before it is obsolete. It doesn't make sense if they have a computer in the classroom that doesn't have enough RAM to run Netscape's Navigator or Microsoft's Explorer," she said. "Most of the computers we've donated have been fairly new, but it has been an issue in the educational arena that schools get outdated equipment."