Farris before President’s Commission
HSLDA President Michael Farris was invited to testify recently before the President’s Commission on Privatization. The commission was formed as a means of exploring various ways to reduce the federal government’s involvement in different areas, something President Reagan has supported since his early days in office. The hearings focused on the privatization of education, and specifically on a voucher program. Such a program would give to each child a voucher worth a certain amount of money, to be used toward whatever form of education the parents choose—public, parochial, private, or even homeschooling. The goal of a voucher system is to improve all forms of education by removing the near-monopoly of the public schools and creating a more competitive market, which would require schools to make improvement or lose students to other schools. The idea is not a new one, but it has always faced a great deal of opposition from groups such as the NEA and other public school supporters.
The hearing consisted primarily of witnesses from various groups opposed to a voucher system, such as the NEA. The president of the American Federation of Teachers, Albert Shanker, also testified, and admitted some interesting things about the public schools’ failure to produce the quality of students expected of it. He mentioned specifically that only about a quarter of the graduates of public schools (that is, a fourth of those who actually graduate, which does not include those who drop out along the way) are able to write a convincing letter or essay or to arrange a set of fractions in increasing order. This surprising admission, made just prior to Farris’ testimony, paved the way for Farris’ discussion of how well the majority of homeschoolers are doing.
During Farris’ testimony, which came at the end of a long day of hearings, the commission members showed a great deal of interest. He fielded many questions about the success of homeschooling and about various aspects of homeschooling in general, since most of the panel members admitted knowing little or nothing about it. One commission member asked what needed to be done to make homeschooling completely legal throughout the nation, so Farris was able to explain the current barriers to homeschooling in some of the most troublesome states.
Given the overwhelming weight of the testimony against a voucher program, it was unclear what kind of proposal the commission will ultimately produce. Nonetheless, the hearings provided a unique opportunity for Farris to make known the facts and some of the needs of the homeschool movement before this group of business and education professionals who are exploring ways of improving our nation’s educational system.