The Bank of America Foundation on Thursday pledged $40 million over the next four years to the United Way of America to help early childhood development and education programs nationwide.

Including a previously announced $10 million contribution, BankAmerica Corp. officials said the total commitment is the foundation's largest gift ever and one of the biggest corporate donations in history.

BankAmerica chairman and chief executive Hugh L. McColl Jr. said the gift would help disadvantaged children get the education and medical care they need early in life to become successful. He described it as a long- term investment that would fuel economic growth and produce a more diverse work force.

"We continue to struggle to overcome our own history, a history of dependence on low-wage jobs ... (and) of discrimination," he said. "When we allow our children to fail, we fail. The bottom line is, our children need educational opportunity."

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