Education Freedom Is on the Move

Milton Friedman – Public Schools / Voucher System

Published on May 9, 2012 by

JANUARY 24, 2023 3:48PM
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Education Freedom Is on the Move

Published January 31, 2023

Somewhere, the late Milton Friedman is beaming. The godfather of school choice and all-around genius had a vision in 1955 to extricate the government from administering education by giving parents vouchers that they could use for specified educational services.

It took a while to get off the ground, but today Friedman’s plan is flying high. According to EdChoice (formerly the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice), 32 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico have some form of private school choice law in place.

At the same time that parental freedom is advancing, the naysayers are having conniptions. In The New RepublicDavid Marques fumes about the just completed National School Choice Week, referring to it as “that annual right-wing P.R. campaign to defund public schools that pretends to really just care about the children.

His fulmination is loaded with all the usual bogus tropes – that private schools are “unaccountable” and “unregulated,” and that the goal of National School Choice Week is to “gut public education, destroy teachers’ unions, and enrich unregulated private education companies.”

Not to be outdone, former teacher and uber-grinch Peter Greene wrote a blog post in which he summarizes the move to parental choice in his final paragraph. “It’s all about the three D’s—disrupt, defund, and dismantle. Call the voucher system whatever you would like, but it is about reducing education from a public good and shared societal responsibility to a simple consumer good.”

In Oklahoma, Duncan school superintendent Tom Deighan said supporters of taxpayer-funded school choice aim to “dismantle all public schools.

The belly-achers also insist that not only will school choice kill the government-run variety, but they also claim that choice is racist, and will lead to significant societal intolerance.

But study after study shows that the government monopolists are dead wrong.  Researcher Greg Forster looked at 34 studies on the effects of school choice on government-run schools, and found that in 32, school choice improves academic outcomes in public schools affected by the program, while one saw no visible difference, and just one found a negative impact.

Forster also reports that of 11 empirical studies, 8 found private schools in choice programs produced stronger tolerance and civic values than public schools, while three found no visible difference. Additionally, he asserts that ten empirical studies have examined private school choice programs on segregation, and nine found that the programs reduced it, while one found no visible difference. Not one showed that choice leads to racial discrimination. Also, concerning race, a recent poll shows that when given a fair description of school choice types, a great majority of minority parents are in favor of it.

The prophets of gloom also claim that rural areas would be devastated by school choice measures. But in fact, rural families benefit from school choice like everyone else. When parents are given a choice, new private education providers emerge to meet demand.

Florida is a good case in point. Ron Matus, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at Florida’s Step Up For Students, explains, “Rural families in Florida are getting the best of both worlds. The overwhelming majority still choose traditional public schools, which in many cases have ably helped anchor rural communities. (Sixteen of the 30 rural districts earned A or B grades from the state this year; the rest earned C’s.) At the same time, families who need something different are able to access it.”

Perhaps the best endorsement for educational freedom of all comes from public school teachers. A survey released in 2016 by Education Next found that “no less than 20% of teachers with school-age children, but only 13% of non-teachers, have sent one or more of their children to private school.” And not surprisingly, 42% of teachers who don’t send their kids to a traditional public school back vouchers, compared to only 23% of the teachers who send their children to traditional public schools.

These results are similar to a 2004 Fordham Institute study that looked at 50 American cities and found that 21.5% of urban school teachers send their kids to private schools, while 17.5% of non-teachers do. Digging a little deeper, we learn that the disparity is considerably greater for larger urban areas. In Philadelphia, 44% of public school teachers’ kids attend a private school, Chicago 39%, San Francisco-Oakland 34%, and in New York City, 33%.

Polls invariably show widespread support for school choice. A recent survey of roughly 2,000 registered voters conducted online found that 62% of respondents would be interested in such an option, some 30% very much so.

The new year bodes well for educational freedom. In Iowa, Gov. Kim Reynolds just signed the Students First Act, whereby parents can control the portion of education dollars the state appropriates, approximately $7,600 annually. The legislation sets some caps for the first two years but removes them in 2025-26, making the educational savings account (ESA) program available to anyone. (ESAs allow parents to receive a deposit of public funds into a government-authorized savings account with restricted, but multiple uses. Those funds can cover private school tuition and fees, online learning programs, private tutoring, community college costs, higher education expenses, and other approved customized learning services and materials.)

In Utah, Gov. Spencer Cox has just signed a law creating an ESA for all children in the state. Students are eligible to receive $8,000 per year for qualified education expenses, including private school tuition, therapies, tutors, and curriculum.

Additionally, just a month into the new year, ten states are gearing up to add choice programs or increase their existing ones. Idaho lawmakers are expected to introduce a bill to create a universal ESA in the state. In Florida, a Republican proposal would extend the state’s already extensive choice programs to any student in the state.

While educational freedom is typically a red state phenomenon, this could change. Democratic Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro was elected governor after campaigning hard for school choice. Also, Illinois Democrat J.D. Pritzker supported his state’s tax credit scholarship program during his campaign.

Do you go to the government-run supermarket near your home to feed your family? Of course not. You find a local, privately-run store with the food you want at the best price. Just imagine if the government forced you to buy food from that awful government market down the street that sold contaminated meat, overripe fruit, and moldy bread, and was staffed by incompetent store employees.

We have had universal grocery choice forever. It is now time to implement educational freedom for all.

First published at For Kids and Country.

Milton Friedman, School Choice Pioneer

As our new School Choice Timeline shows, calls for public funding to follow students to a variety of educational options date back centuries. However, Nobel Prize‐​winning economist Milton Friedman is often considered the father of the modern school choice movement.

In a 1955 essay, The Role of Government in Education, Friedman acknowledged some justifications for government mandates and funding when it comes to education. However, he said it’s difficult to justify government administration of education. He suggested governments could provide parents with vouchers worth a specified maximum sum per child per year to be spent on “approved” educational services.

Friedman would return to this idea repeatedly over the years in his writings and his popular Free to Choose television series. But he did more than just write and talk about his idea. In 1996, he and his wife Rose, who was also a noted economist, started the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. Their original plan included the eventual removal of their name from the foundation, which happened in 2016; the organization is now known as EdChoice and is the go‐​to source for up‐​to‐​date information on school choice in America.

Milton Friedman had a remarkable life. He was born in Brooklyn in 1912 to parents who emigrated to the U.S. from eastern Europe. His father died during his senior year in high school, leaving his mother and older sisters to support the family. He managed to attend Rutgers University through a combination of scholarships and various jobs. After earning a degree in economics, he was awarded a scholarship to pursue a graduate degree at the University of Chicago, where he met his future wife, Rose. The Friedmans had two children, a son and a daughter.

Friedman’s list of accomplishments is astonishingly long. In addition to his 1976 Nobel Prize for Economic Science, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Science in 1988. He was a Senior Research Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution from 1977 to 2006, a distinguished economics professor at the University of Chicago from 1946 to 1976, and a researcher at the National Bureau of Economic Research from 1937 to 1981. He was a prolific writer of newspaper and magazine columns, essays, and books.

Milton Friedman’s focus on education choice made perfect sense in light of his other work. He had a consistent focus on preserving and expanding individual freedom. He saw parental control and the ability to choose the environment that worked best for individual children as essential to a quality education. His 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom included chapters on economic and political freedom, trade, fiscal policy, occupational licenses, and poverty, along with his earlier essay on the role of government in education.

In 1980, Milton and Rose released Free to Choose, a discussion of economics and freedom, as a book and a television series. One segment/​chapter asked, “What’s Wrong with Our Schools?” and then explained the importance of parents being able to choose what works for their individual children.

When the Friedman Foundation was launched, there were five education choice programs in the U.S. with fewer than 10,000 students participating. Today, according to EdChoice, there are 74 programs in 32 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, with 670,000 students participating.

While there is a long and deep history of individuals and organizations calling for various forms of school choice, it is clear that Milton Friedman played an enormous role in its advance in the U.S. He helped lay the intellectual groundwork for the programs in place today, and his relatable writings and videos helped explain his ideas to parents, policymakers, and thought leaders. As we celebrate National School Choice Week—and Cato’s new School Choice Timeline—it’s a great time to commemorate Milton Friedman’s important contributions to the movement.

The School Choice Revolution

It’s time to celebrate another victory for school choice.

  • In 2021, West Virginia adopted statewide school choice.
  • In 2022, Arizona adopted statewide school choice.
  • In 2023, Iowa adopted statewide school choice.

Now Utah has joined the club, with Governor Spencer Cox approving a new law that will give families greater freedom to choose the best educational options for their children.

Here are some details from Marjorie Cortez, reporting for the Deseret News.

The Utah Senate gave final passage to legislation that will provide $8,000 scholarships to qualifying families for private schools and other private education options…The bill passed by a two-thirds margin in each legislative house, which means it cannot be challenged by referendum. …The bill creates the Utah Fits All Scholarship, which can then be used for education expenses like curriculum, textbooks, education, software, tutoring services, micro-school teacher salaries and private school tuition.

As you might expect, teacher unions and their allies are very disappointed – which is a very positive sign.

…the Utah Education Association…opposed HB215… The bill was also opposed by the Utah State Board of Education, Utah PTA, school superintendents, business administrators and school boards. The Alliance for a Better Utah was pointed in its reaction… “Conservative lawmakers just robbed our neighborhood schools of $42 million. Private school vouchers have been and continue to be opposed by Utahns but these lawmakers are instead pursuing a national agenda to ‘destroy public education.’

The Wall Street Journal opined on this great development.

School choice is gaining momentum across the country, and this week Utah joined Iowa in advancing the education reform cause. …Utah’s bill, which the Senate passed Thursday, 20-8, makes ESAs of $8,000 available to every student. There’s no income cap on families who can apply, though lower-income families receive preference and the program is capped at $42 million. The funds can be used for private school tuition, home-schooling expenses, tutoring, and more.

But the best part of the editorial is the look at other states that may be poised to expand educational freedom.

About a dozen other state legislatures have introduced bills to create new ESA programs, and several want to expand the ones they have. In Florida a Republican proposal would extend the state’s already robust scholarship programs to any student in the state. The bill would remove income limits that are currently in place for families who want to apply, though lower-income applicants would receive priority. …South Carolina legislators are mulling a new ESA program for lower-income students. In Indiana, a Senate bill would make state ESAs available to more students. An Ohio bill would remove an income cap and other eligibility rules for the state’s school vouchers. Two Oklahoma Senate bills propose new ESA programs… ESA bills are in some stage of moving in Nebraska, New Hampshire, Texas and Virginia.

Let’s hope there is more progress.

School choice is a win-win for both students and taxpayers.

P.S. Here’s a must-see chart showing how more and more money for the government school monopoly has produced zero benefit.

P.P.S. There are very successful school choice systems in CanadaSwedenChile, and the Netherlands.

P.P.P.S. Getting rid of the Department of Education would be a good idea, but the battle for school choice is largely going to be won and lost on the state and local level.

The Machine: The Truth Behind Teachers Unions

Published on Sep 4, 2012 by

America’s public education system is failing. We’re spending more money on education but not getting better results for our children.

That’s because the machine that runs the K-12 education system isn’t designed to produce better schools. It’s designed to produce more money for unions and more donations for politicians.

For decades, teachers’ unions have been among our nation’s largest political donors. As Reason Foundation’s Lisa Snell has noted, the National Education Association (NEA) alone spent $40 million on the 2010 election cycle (source: As the country’s largest teachers union, the NEA is only one cog in the infernal machine that robs parents of their tax dollars and students of their futures.

Students, teachers, parents, and hardworking Americans are all victims of this political machine–a system that takes money out of taxpayers’ wallets and gives it to union bosses, who put it in the pockets of politicians.

Our kids deserve better.

“The Machine” is 4:17 minutes.

Written and narrated by Evan Coyne Maloney. Produced by the Moving Picture Institute in partnership with Reason TV.

Visit to learn more.

No one did more to advance the cause of school vouchers than Milton and Rose Friedman. Friedman made it clear in his film series “Free to Choose” how sad he was that young people who live in the inner cities did not have good education opportunities available to them.

I have posted often about the voucher system and how it would solve our education problems. What we are doing now is not working. Milton Friedman’s idea of implementing school vouchers was hatched about 50 years ago.

Poor families are most affected by this lack of choice. As Friedman noted, “There is no respect in which inhabitants of a low-income neighborhood are so disadvantaged as in the kind of schooling they can get for their children.” It is a sad statement quantified by data on low levels of academic achievement and attainment. Take a look at this article below.

Lindsey Burke

September 25, 2012 at 5:46 pm

SAT scores among the nation’s test-takers are at a 40-year low.

As The Washington Post reports:

Reading scores on the SAT for the high school class of 2012 reached a four-decade low, putting a punctuation mark on a gradual decline in the ability of college-bound teens to read passages and answer questions about sentence structure, vocabulary and meaning on the college entrance exam.

The decline over the decades has been significant. The average reading (verbal) score is down 34 points since 1972. Sadly, the historically low SAT scores are only the latest marker of decline. Graduation rates have been stagnant since the 1970s, reading and math achievement has been virtually flat over the same time period, and American students still rank in the middle of the pack compared to their international peers.

On the heels of the news about the SAT score decline, President Obama filmed a segment with NBC’s Education Nation earlier today. The President notably praised the concept of charter schools and pay for performance for teachers.

But those grains of reform were dwarfed by his support of the status quo. During the course of the interview, President Obama suggested hiring 100,000 new math and science teachers and spending more money on preschool. He also stated that No Child Left Behind had good intentions but was “under-resourced.”

Efforts by the federal government to intervene in preschool, most notably through Head Start, have failed—despite a $160 billion in spending on the program since 1965. And No Child Left Behind is far from “under-resourced.” The $25 billion, 600-page law has been on the receiving end of significant new spending every decade since the original law was first passed nearly half a century ago.

President Obama was also pressed on the issue of education unions by host Savannah Guthrie:

Some people think, President Obama gets so much support from the teachers’ unions, he can’t possibly have an honest conversation about what they’re doing right or wrong. Can you really say that teachers’ unions aren’t slowing the pace of reform?

President Obama responded: “You know, I just really get frustrated when I hear teacher-bashing as evidence of reform.”

Criticizing education unions for standing in the way of reform should not be conflated with criticizing teachers, as the President does in the interview. The unions have blocked reforms such as performance pay and charter schools (which the President supports), have opposed alternative teacher certification that would help mid-career professionals enter the classroom, and have consistently fought the implementation of school choice options for children.

If we ever hope to move the needle on student achievement—or see SAT scores turn in the right direction again—we’ll need to implement many of those exact reforms, particularly school choice.

And as he has in the past, President Obama stated that his Administration wants to “use evidenced-based approaches and find out what works.” We know what works: giving families choices when it comes to finding schools that best meet their children’s needs. Instead of continuing to call for more spending and more Washington intervention in education, let’s try something new: choice and freedom.

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