Will Computers in Schools Make the Poor Poorer?

DOES your child solve equations with a calculator or Macintosh Performa computer ($1,500) or do reports with a pencil or Hewlett-Packard LaserJet printer ($900)?

Although a recent study found that blacks and Hispanics use computers in school as much as whites and Asian-Americans - the result, apparently, of remedial government programs - they lag about 10 percentage points behind in computer knowledge.

Consider FutureKids, the world's largest computer-school chain for children. The program, which costs up to $25 an hour, goes where the money is. There are 25 franchises around Los Angeles, but none in the inner city; more than a dozen in Japan, but none in West Virginia.

Lenny Yavner, who owns the Tenafly, N.J., franchise, says he worries about children who can't afford classes. ``How's a kid in the city going to find a place like this to hang out after school?''

It's possible the computer could make the poor poorer, says Howard Budin, a Columbia Teachers College technology specialist. And Robert McClintock, his colleague, argues that the gap between rich suburban schools and impoverished urban ones could scarcely grow wider. ``I don't know about victims of technology, but I see lots of victims of education right now.'' Restaurants adopt no-smoking policy

A FAST-FOOD restaurant chain on Wednesday endorsed legislation banning smoking in most commercial buildings, and McDonald's said its 1,400 company-owned eateries will be smoke-free.

The announcement by McDonald's follows Arby's decision last month to adopt a smoke-free policy in company-owned restaurants. But many franchise owners have shied away from a ban.

``We believe it's the right thing to do for our customers and our employees,'' said Ed Rensi, McDonald's USA president/chief executive officer. He said about 3,600 of 9,100 McDonald's nationwide already are or soon will be smoke-free.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D) of California is optimistic about chances for the legislation he sponsored but added: ``It's never a cinch when we're fighting the tobacco industry.'' The bill, expected to emerge from Mr. Waxman's energy, health, and environment subcommittee this spring, would require that smoking be banned in commercial or public nonresidential buildings entered by at least 10 people or be restricted to ventilated rooms.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which has endorsed the bill, estimates between 33,000 and 99,000 lives could be saved annually if such properties banned smoking because the environment would encourage smokers to quit and make nonsmokers less likely to start.

The Tobacco Institute has criticized EPA findings as flawed.

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