The founder and chairman of the Internet shopping site Overstock.com is the new co-chairman of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, an Indianapolis-based school choice advocacy group.
Patrick M. Byrne, who helped spearhead an unsuccessful effort to bring vouchers to Utah, will take on a more prominent role in the national school choice movement with his new position.
Utah voters last November approved a ballot measure overturning the nation’s first universal voucher law, approved earlier in the year by the state legislature. (“Utah’s Vote Raises Bar on Choice,” Nov. 14, 2007.)
But Mr. Byrne said the movement is still charging ahead, and that there’s much work to do.
“Reforming education is the most important issue facing this country,” Mr. Byrne said in an interview. The key to reform, he argued, is getting government out of the way and letting the free market, through competition, improve schools and weed out bad ones.
Mr. Byrne said he’s still figuring out how best to use his new role to advance the cause. He doesn’t expect to become the chief spokesman, but instead someone who supports and pushes for good research and advocacy, though not political campaigns.
The Friedman Foundation notes that when it started in 1996, five states had five voucher or similar programs for school choice. Now, 14 states have 24 programs.
“With Patrick on board, I expect this number to skyrocket,” Gordon St. Angelo, the president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation, said in a statement.
Mr. Byrne said he and the foundation are looking to Florida. Voters there will consider a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would help reinstate a voucher program for students in low-performing schools that earlier was struck down by the state supreme court.
In addition to being a school choice proponent, Mr. Byrne was an early supporter of the “65 percent solution,” a school funding strategy requiring that percentage of money to flow directly into the classroom.
A version of this article appeared in the July 30, 2008 edition of Education Week