Katie Farris, a 12-year-old home school student from Lincoln, Virginia, was one of 49 children chosen from around the nation to participate in the ABC special, President Clinton Answers Children’s Questions. Airing live from the White House on February 20, 1993, this forum allowed the children to ask President Clinton questions—some were light-hearted, others were serious. Katie asked the President for his opinion on home schooling. A transcript of their conversation follows.
Katie: I’m home schooled. I don’t go to school, and I was wondering what you thought about home schooling and what you were going to do about it—or if there is anything you are going to do.
Peter Jennings: Can you explain what home schooling is?
Katie: My parents teach me at home, so I don’t go to school. They don’t really believe like the stuff—some of the stuff—that’s being taught and done in the schools.
President: I can tell you what I have done about it. Let me say—let me just tell all of you this—just by way of background. The public schools of our country are largely run at the local level by school boards and school administrators. And the money for them and the rules by which they are run are largely set at the state level, by the state governments throughout the country. You’re from Virginia, right? So it’s the state government in Richmond that largely makes the rules for the public schools.
I was a governor before I became President. While I was Governor, I supported and passed a law to our legislature which made home schooling legal and which supported home schooling and parents and children making the decision to be educated at home as long as the children were willing to take examinations every year and prove that they were learning what they should be learning for people their age. And that’s the way I feel.
I think that your parents and you as a family should have the right to do this as long as you are learning, and if you can demonstrate that you’re learning, I think you should have the right to do this.
Peter Jennings: Can I interrupt, Sir, because I don’t think people really understand why many parents want to teach, or insist on teaching their children at home. A lot of it has to do with sex education, doesn’t it?
President: Well, I think a lot—it’s different for different people. I think there—and Katie, you can interrupt me or say what you think—but I have talked to a lot of parents and children who’ve been in the home-schooling movement, and normally they fall into two groups.
There is one group, perhaps the smaller group, who believes that they just give their kids a better education—that the kids learn more, and more quickly. Then there’s a second set of concerns which revolve around values. A lot of parents are really upset by what Michael [previous questioner] just said—that when kids go to school they have to worry about being exposed to violence, premature sex, to drugs, to things that they may not agree with. So there is the values objection to things that children are exposed to and then the academic objection.
President to Katie: Is that a fair statement?
Katie: Nods yes.
As President Clinton stated, Arkansas passed home-schooling regulations while he was the governor of that state. The following article describes the regulations to which home schoolers in Arkansas are now subject.
A Reality Check: Clinton’s Record on Home Schooling Legislation
During the time Bill Clinton was Governor of Arkansas, he actually signed into law two home school bills within a single year. The second bill, Arkansas’ current law, contains the most restrictive provisions for teaching a special needs child of any home school law in the nation. It requires a parent to be a state-certified special education teacher in order to home school a handicapped child. Additionally, while 27 states currently require some form of standardized test for students enrolled in a home education program, Arkansas not only requires annual testing, but considers composite test score results more than 8 months below the expected grade level to be unsatisfactory.
There is an interesting history behind the enactment of the Arkansas law under then-Governor Clinton’s administration. As the result of lobbying efforts by home schoolers, in 1985 the General Assembly of Arkansas enacted and Governor Clinton signed one of the most favorable pieces of home school legislation in the country.
This legislation simply required that parents who elected to teach their children at home notify the local public school superintendent of their decision. The law also required that beginning at nine years of age, home-schooled children would be annually tested with a nationally recognized standardized achievement test from the approved State Board of Education list. An “unsatisfactory” test score was to be determined from standards set by the State Board of Education. The Arkansas home schoolers celebration of this favorable legislation was to be short-lived, however.
After reflecting on the implications of granting such liberty to parent-teachers and in response to criticism from some of his political enemies, Governor Clinton called for a special session of the Arkansas General Assembly for the primary purpose of seeking an amendment to the three-month-old law. Thus, the current law was passed in the 1985 special session, adding the restrictions which still remain after Governor Clinton’s departure.
The amended law imposes annual testing requirements on all students enrolled in a home school who are seven years old or older. It also requires that each 14-year-old home school student take and pass the Minimum Performance Test required of all eighth grade public school students before being eligible to enter the ninth grade. All such tests are administered under the direction of the Arkansas Department of Education at the expense of the parent. Any student eight years of age or older whose test results are unsatisfactory must be enrolled in a public, private or parochial school unless, prior to the beginning of the next school year, the student retakes the same test and achieves a satisfactory score.
In the area of special education, should a parent meet the qualifications for teaching a child who is handicapped, the parent must follow the procedures for developing and implementing an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) which includes specific goals and objectives approved by public school officials. Under the current Arkansas regulations, even if a parent contracts with a private provider who is certified or licensed to provide the specialized instruction, or accesses specialized instruction which is available from the local school district, the parent must still hold a valid special education certificate from the State of Arkansas in order to conduct a home education program for a handicapped student.