Milton Friedman’s Vision for School Choice
It was about 54 years ago that famed economist Milton Friedman first wrote “The Role of Government in Education,” his argument for an expansion of parental choice in public-funded education:
Government, preferably local governmental units, would give each child, through his parents, a specified sum to be used solely in paying for his general education; the parents would be free to spend this sum at a school of their own choice, provided it met certain minimum standards laid down by the appropriate governmental unit. Such schools would be conducted under a variety of auspices: by private enterprises operated for profit, non profit institutions established by private endowment, religious bodies, and some even by governmental units.
About a year before his death, Reason interviewed Friedman about the education reform legacy he had instigated:
I want vouchers to be universal, to be available to everyone. They should contain few or no restrictions on how they can be used. We need a system in which the government says to every parent: “Here is a piece of paper you can use for the educational purposes of your child. It will cover the full cost per student at a government school. It is worth X dollars towards the cost of educational services that you purchase from parochial schools, private for-profit schools, private nonprofit schools, or other purveyors of educational services. You may add from your own funds to the voucher if you wish to and can afford to.” (I try to avoid calling government schools public schools because I think that’s a very misleading term.)
As to the benefits of universal vouchers, empowering parents would generate a competitive education market, which would lead to a burst of innovation and improvement, as competition has done in so many other areas. There’s nothing that would do so much to avoid the danger of a two-tiered society, of a class-based society. And there’s nothing that would do so much to ensure a skilled and educated work force.
Friedman also expanded on his arguments in favor of school choice in the 1980s PBS television series “Free to Choose.” The episode of this series dealing with education is available online, broken into six separate video clips. The first is embedded below:
Be sure to watch the rest, too! It’s well worth the time of anybody who cares about improving educational opportunities for all children.