Computer Donations to Schools

A Review of Selected Private-Sector, Nonprofit and State Programs

by Walter S. Baer, Gwen Farnsworth


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This documented briefing discusses private-sector, nonprofit and state-sponsored programs that transfer used computer equipment to elementary and secondary schools. There are literally thousands of such programs in the United States, which in total provide more than 100,000 computers annually, or roughly 10 percent of all the computers acquired by K-12 schools. Until recently, most gifts have involved a direct transfer between an individual or corporate donor and a school recipient. Donors have found, however, that schools need considerable support to properly install, maintain and operate the donated computers. This has led in some cases to unanticipated repair and administrative costs to donors or, in other cases, to less-than-expected goodwill from their donations. For their part, educators all too often report that donated equipment is obsolete, arrives broken or is missing crucial components such as keyboards or disk drives. Such donations are usually discarded, although they sometimes are useful for training vocational students in basic computer repair. These problems have encouraged many private firms to donate used equipment through third-party, computer recycling or intermediary organizations. Current recycling programs emphasize refurbishing and upgrading computers that can run multimedia software and access the Internet. Recycling programs are certainly not the full solution to schools' technology needs, but if properly managed, they can add substantially to the number of capable computers in elementary and secondary school classrooms.

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