- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 5, 2001

The crusaders are at it again. This time their target is soft drink and snack machines at school. Somehow the crusaders have managed not to notice that children across the nation rely on millions of dollars in benefits from school fund-raising programs each year. Nor do they realize that these youngsters will suffer with the loss of some of these funds and a drop in the quality of the education they receive. It should come as no surprise that those trying to deprive students of badly needed financial support from these fund-raising activities argue that they are acting to help the children.

Maybe a visit to local school would help. As a former student, a son of a school teacher and a regent at a university, I know that school fund-raising programs are nothing new. For years, schools and student groups have raised money by selling home-baked cakes and cookies, yearbooks, school newspapers, calendars, class rings, student photos, snack foods and soft drinks in schools. In my neighborhood today, the students even hold outdoor carwashes on the school grounds to raise funds.

Amazingly, the anti-soda machine activists have managed to miss all of the benefits of these fund-raising partnerships. Schools buy computers, gym equipment, books, team uniforms and other supplies for the youngsters with the money raised through this fund-raising. Schools also use the funds to help pay for sports programs, clubs, field trips, scholarships, and even to make up for shortfalls in basic operating expenses in many low-income districts.

It is not just soft drinks and candy bars, by the way, that are the objects of derision. Many of these people seeking to sharply cut back school fund-raising programs demand that schools become commercial-free zones divorced completely from ties with any outside businesses. The truly zealous go even further and demand that schools become sugar-free, fast-food-free and snack-free zones. How about putting all of that energy into creating illiteracy-free, drug-free and violence-free zones at our school campuses?

Here is the point. Imagine telling a 16-year-old girl that she will be better off because the debate team she wanted to join has disbanded, the computer course she wanted to take has been canceled, the scholarship she was seeking no longer exists and the soccer team she wanted to play on has dissolved all because her school has stopped collecting revenue from soft drink sales.

Do you think the girl will thank you? And can you seriously argue that she will have a better high school experience without these opportunities? Because that's the real consequence of Snickers-and-Coke-free zones.

In fact, the need for extra funding for schools has never been greater. Furthermore, our nation faces an education crisis marked by falling student test scores, high dropout rates in low-income communities, and the need for a more educated work force. This is exactly the time we should be open to creative and alternative funding sources.

Of course, when informed of the consequences of their plan, the critics of business school partnerships say schools should simply get the funds elsewhere. This let-them-eat cake attitude is unrealistic. Today many homeowners feel property taxes are already too high, and the prospects of substantial increases in state and federal funds aren't any more likely. It is pretty obvious that if the public sector could make up for education funding shortfalls alone, then the business partnerships wouldn't have taken place to start with.

Working together, businesses and schools can provide students with new programs and new opportunities that will help build better futures for America's children. Rather than decrease the availability of these funding sources, I say we should look to increase them.

orace Cooper is director of coalitions and counsel for House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas.

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