Ruth Lehenbauer wishes her six children had been educated in her home instead of public schools.

"Children become peer dependent on bad role models when they are in the public system," said Lehenbauer. "I don't feel my children have reached their full potential because they have been taught in a system where a child has to wait for everyone else to keep up. There is no incentive to excel."Her son, who was rated in the top percentile in math, became bored with math because he was not permitted to attend an advanced class.

A certified teacher, Lehenbauer is leading a crusade to offer Utahns an alternative to public schools. Her group, called the Coalition for Freedom in Education, is drafting a proposed law that would provide funding for private and home schools. They believe everyone should have the choice of where their education tax dollars are spent. Those who opt not to send children to public school should be able to use the money they are assessed for public education to instead pay for home school or private school.

"The state would save a lot of money in litigation if they would adopt a uniform law for the whole state that addresses home education," said Lehenbauer. In some Utah school districts, home-schoolers are "given a hard time by administrators who don't know the law."

Public education does work for some students primarily because Utah teachers generally do a wonderful job. But many kids fail in public schools because they need special help, and it is impossible to receive individualized attention in Utah's crowded schools, said Leh-en-bauer.

One of the members of the coalition has a son who dropped out of public school but has succeeded in private school because he gets the attention he needs. "But educating him in a private school is costing an arm and a leg. Parents should not be penalized financially for choosing the best education for their child."

Public schools are inefficient because they have grown into big businesses. Like any large institution, they become insensitive to the needs of individuals, she said.

"We sequester children of similar age in a room together and essentially demand, `You must all learn alike or be labeled B for bright or D for dumb. You will be compared to each other and be praised or shamed before your peers.' Is it any wonder that children learn to fear and resent school and each other?"

Schools are actually hurting children psychologically, socially and academically, she asserts. She thinks public schools produce indifference, self-hatred, cruelty, shallowness, materialism and depersonalization.

"Public schools are assuming too much parental responsibility. They feed our children, train them, counsel them and pacify them. At age 18, they graduate and must begin dealing with a world they hardly know.

"We are petitioning for freedom and the right to use our tax dollars for healthy alternatives in edu-ca-tion."