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Fortune 500 firms pressuring Washington for childcare | (UPI) -- A group of many of the most powerful corporations in the nation has announced a joint campaign to improve early learning and after-school care for children of families with both parents in the work force.

Donna Klein, who heads the year-old Corporate Voices for Working Families, said progress will require collaboration between the private and public sectors, and that is why the organization was formed by 32 major corporations.

"The message is a clear one. The solution to early education and after-school care is a collaborative cooperation between the private sector and Capitol Hill," she said. "One of the basics we agree on is that we can't do it alone."

Corporate Voices includes 32 partner companies including Abbott Laboratories, American Airlines, Ceridian, CFS, IBM, Johnson and Johnson, Marriott International, Pfizer, Texas Instruments and United Parcel Service -- a potentially powerful and well-organized lobby.

Together the firms employ more than 2.5 million people throughout all 50 state with annual net revenues of $700 billion. More than 70 percent of the companies are listed in the Fortune 500, and all share leadership positions in developing family support policies for their own work forces.

The group plans to hold a town hall meeting Thursday in Boston with corporate and political leaders, foundation representatives, educational experts and nonprofit organizations to discuss after-school issues.

Bernadette Fusaro, vice president for work-life strategies at Merrill Lynch, said the biggest concerns of parents at the financial firm is early education and after-school care, particularly during long vacations such as the Christmas holidays and the period in August when camps are closed.

She said Merrill Lynch offers backup programs for those periods, but efforts by individual corporations are not enough, and the problems have to be attacked on a wider front by both government and business.

"Although we have expended a lot of money and time and effort, we have learned that the solutions have to be systemic," Fusaro said.

David Gleason, president of Bright Horizons Foundation for Children, said recent research has shown that younger children are more capable of learning in their first four or five years than had been thought in the past.

"Corporate Voices is trying to spark a national debate on early learning and create a national response to after-school and summer experiences for elementary school children," Gleason said. "These hours after school and summers are important hours for education or recreation, and many communities are not providing organized programs."

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