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Privatization Panel Backs Universal Choice

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WASHINGTON--The federal government should foster parental choice in education through programs that include private schools, the President's Commission on Privatization argues in its final report.

The education recommendations adopted by the panel in January remain unchanged in the final draft. But the text implies stronger support than had been expected for a system of universal choice and federal aid to private schools.

The report, presented to President Reagan this month, urges the government to consider delegating a broad range of functions--from mail delivery to prison management--to private companies.

The commission was charged with examining the division of responsibilities between the public and private sectors. It chose education as one of its areas of study.

After the panel adopted its recommendations on education, the chairman, David F. Linowes, said the statements should not be construed as either supporting or opposing private-school participation in voucher programs. (See Education Week, Jan. 20, 1988.)

The commission decided to support vouchers and other schemes through which federal aid in such areas as remedial and special education could be paid directly to parents for use at schools of their choice. The recommendation--which also supports other types of choice programs, such as magnet schools--does not explicitly include private schools.

A recommendation that private schools be allowed to participate in federal programs of school aid was made separately.

It was tempered by a statement that the government should "remain sensitive to retaining values represented by public schools,'' and protect "the full range of rights guaranteed by the Constitution.''

"If public policies followed this recommendation,'' new language in the final report adds, "the nation might well experience four different types of education: private schools refusing government assistance and regulations (including home schooling), private schools accepting government assistance and related regulations, public schools participating in educational-choice programs, and public schools not participating in such programs as a result of local decisions.''

Alternatives for Disadvantaged

The report discusses at length the shortcomings the commission perceives in public education.

It is especially critical of the record of public schools in serving disadvantaged students, and recommends offering such students "alternatives'' to the present system.

It portrays favorably Secretary of Education William J. Bennett's proposal to convert the Chapter 1 compensatory-education program to a voucher system. It also echoes Mr. Bennett's criticism of the "education establishment.''

"The nation is ill-served by a public-school system whose teachers and policymakers have so little confidence that policy decisions of many prominent education organizations are dominated by a fear that students would flee if their parents had the resources,'' the report says.

It adds that "education policymakers would better serve the American public by increasing the options available for the complex task of improving public education.''

"The commission believes,'' it concludes, "that increased educational choice would enable Americans to chart an incremental path around the current stalemate by building on our highest principles and our best experiences.''--J.M.

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