Corporations have become great patrons of technology to America’s public and private schools. However, some advocates of improving school technology have pointed out that used computers bring with them a host of problems, and they argue that diverting attention to those problems may actually leave tech-ed in worse shape than if the computers had not been received.

Regardless of some educators’ reservations, Congress seems poised to pass the New Millennium Classrooms Act, which would increase the tax break for companies donating computers to schools over and above the tax break they would get for other charitable donations. Under the proposal, donated machines cannot be older than three years.

Jerry Grayson of the Detwiler Foundation supports the proposed tax break plan as an inexpensive way to help eliminate the seven- and eight-year-old computers that are found in many classrooms today. As he points out, those older computers do not have multimedia capabilities, and in many cases, they may not even be able to access the internet.

Other commenters supported Grayson’s remarks by noting that for many inner-city school systems in the U.S., any computer is a blessing. The ratio of student to computer is so high that non-access is a more severe problem than outdated machines, they said. Another commenter, a teacher, said that she uses aged computers to provide learning experiences for students who wish to troubleshoot them.

But Adeena Colbert of the Consortium for School Networking and the International Society for Technology in Education calls the tax act a poor solution that may have unanticipated repercussions. She says that the incompatibility of old computers with newer software will cause headaches for teachers who are not well-versed in using computers and for already-stressed network administrators. Because computer hardware is only a small part of the cost of creating, using, and maintaining a telecommunications system in a school, she suggests that having the computers as the weak link in the chain will actually raise the costs of the rest of the operation—perhaps significantly.

Several classroom teachers supported Colbert’s analysis of the potential pitfalls of donated computers, and they also pointed out the inequity of continuing to send the inferior equipment to schools that do not have the resources to purchase new machines.