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CORPORATIONS PICK UP THE SLACK IN EDUCATION

No longer can you owe your soul to the company store, but your mind might be up for grabs.
Corporations are offering an ingenious fringe benefit to their employees -- the company school.

A recent issue of Working Woman magazine hailed the on-site school house as a new way for companies "to improve employee loyalty and productivity."

Thirty companies have started elementary schools, public and private, according to the magazine, which calls workplace schooling "one of the fastest-growing new trends at large U.S. corporations."

Employees love on-site schools. Classes are smaller and after-school supervision is better than in public schools and the children's vacation schedules are tailored to theirs.

Employers love them as a recruitment tool and because they reduce absenteeism and make it easier for workers to put in longer hours.

The for-profit education industry is ecstatic. Financed by corporations with deep pockets, work site ventures are more lucrative than taxpayer-funded charter schools and the homogeneous classrooms are easier on teachers.

According to Working Woman, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, a private accrediting agency, the corporate schools are "top-notch." The Coalition of Essential Schools, a non-profit agency working for school reform, is less enthusiastic, citing the lack of diversity in the school population and the total infusion of a corporate culture.

Declining taxpayer support of public schools is opening the door to all kinds of private intervention. Another magazine aimed at women working in high-paying jobs, Working Mother, will sponsor a seminar for corporate leaders next month at which they will be invited to "show their commitment to business involvement in education." The sponsor hints that businesses can make a real difference in the education of today's youth.

When you read that the meeting in New York City will offer CEOs "the dynamic experience of collectively strategizing" you might question what the real difference will mean to the English composition classes.

Still, schools could use the cash.

According to the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers' union, two-thirds of the country's public schools need extensive repair, overhaul or replacement.

In addition, the NEA reports, only 27 percent of American classrooms are wired for Internet access. In schools serving primarily poor and minority students, only 14 percent are on line.

The NEA isn't having any luck persuading Congress to subsidize a $22 billion bond initiative to restore the nation's crumbling schools even though those same lawmakers were tripping over each other to cast votes in favor of a $220 billion highway improvement bill. Some of the Public School Modernization Act bond money would trickle down to the Buffalo school system, which came within a governor's veto of getting $8.6 million in state funds this year to refurbish its aging plant.

Kathryn Lake Mazierski, re-elected president of Buffalo Chapter, National Organization for Women, launched her second term with an attack on Gov. Pataki and Republican Party strategies to attract women voters.

Citing the governor's line-item budget veto of funds for child care, day care, family planning, displaced homemakers, loans for women and minority-owned business, osteoporosis research and a women veterans' coordinator, Ms. Mazierski charged in the NOW News that the governor is not friendly to women.

New York State NOW has endorsed Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey Ross in her bid to be the Democratic party's gubernatorial candidate.

Ms. Mazierski also attacks the administration's support of a Catholic Health Maintenance Organization, Fidelis, as the mandated Medicaid managed care provider. Fidelis does not cover a range of reproductive health care services.

Ms. Mazierski said "women have been systematically excluded from full and equal political participation and representation" in state government.

The Albany-based Center for Women in Government reported that women held 22.7 percent of the high administrative positions in Pataki's office. Nationally women hold 28.8 percent of the top-ranking posts in state governments.

Republicans say they have about a thousand more women in local elective office throughout the state but seven of the eight women in the State Senate are Democrats as are 25 of the 35 women in the Assembly.

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