Opinion
School Choice & Charters Opinion

Is 2011 Milton Friedman’s Year of School Choice?

By Robert Enlow — July 28, 2011 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Sixteen years ago, as students were enjoying their summer break, Nobel laureate Milton Friedman issued his own report card on the American education system. In a guest commentary in The Washington Post, he described it as “backward,” often producing “dismal results.”

Not much has changed in 16 years.

Friedman noted that education had been stuck in a 19th-century model for decades, producing results that hadn’t kept up with our fast-paced world. That’s why he offered his vision of privatizing a portion of the educational establishment with school choice, to provide a variety of learning opportunities for students and to offer competition to public schools.

In 2011, we may have finally launched Friedman’s Year of School Choice.

No fewer than 18 voucher, tax-credit, and education-savings-account programs have been adopted since January by state legislatures, Congress, and one local school board.

While students are home relaxing, states and cities are implementing new programs that allow parents to choose freely the schools most appropriate for their children. No longer will they be assigned to schools based on their addresses alone.

Thanks to support from groups across the political spectrum, proposals that met resistance for years are now becoming law—even in states with strong unions, such as Ohio and Wisconsin. It’s because many now appreciate what Friedman began saying years ago—it costs less to educate a child with a voucher or privately funded tax-credit scholarship than to send him or her to a public school.

Among the new or expanded programs are:

Vouchers. Indiana passed the nation’s most extensive voucher program this spring, offering vouchers to middle-class families earning up to $61,000, with no cap on the number of vouchers awarded after three years. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed an expansion of the Milwaukee voucher program this summer. That program, the nation’s oldest, now will include vouchers for middle-class families earning up to $67,000; a similar program was enacted for Racine, Wis. Ohio will quadruple the number of vouchers available to students stuck in failing schools by 2013. Arizona adopted education savings accounts, a voucher-type program to cover education costs for special-needs children. And Congress reinstated a popular voucher program for low-income families in the District of Columbia.

In 2011, we may have finally launched Friedman’s Year of School Choice."

Tax credits. Corporations or individuals may donate to scholarship-granting organizations to gain a credit on taxes due in their states. These scholarships help children attend private schools. This year, a new tax-credit program was enacted in Oklahoma, while existing ones were expanded in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, and Pennsylvania. The amount of money that can be raised for scholarship organizations and donated by individuals and companies varies by state.

Other private choice. In Louisiana, parents who send their children to private schools will be able to write off their state income taxes up to $5,000 of tuition per child, thanks to legislation passed this summer. In Indiana, parents who do the same or spend money home-schooling their children will be able to write off up to $1,000 in any educational expenses. North Carolina parents of special-needs students will earn a tax credit of up to $6,000 for educational expenses for their children. All this is designed to encourage more educational options for families.

Remarkably in this year of school choice, even the education bureaucracy has started to drop its resistance—and, in some cases, to put its toe in the water—regarding voucher or tax-credit programs, especially those for disadvantaged children.

Throughout the country, a smattering of school board members have been elected who aren’t afraid to embrace school choice, whether it be through charter schools, tax credits, or voucher programs. In Douglas County, Colo., for example, the locally elected school board enacted a program offering 500 vouchers worth up to $4,575 each. Some elected officials say they believe only competition will prompt the education establishment to work to improve public schools.

The explosion of new and expanded school choice programs shows that Milton Friedman got it right when it comes to mounting frustration with monopolies.

“Support for free choice of schools has been growing rapidly and cannot be held back indefinitely by the vested interests of the unions and educational bureaucracy,” Friedman wrote in the Post in 1995. “I sense that we are on the verge of a breakthrough in one state or another, which will then sweep like a wildfire through the rest of the country as it demonstrates its effectiveness.”

In 2011, that wildfire broke out.

A version of this article appeared in the August 10, 2011 edition of Education Week as Is 2011 Milton Friedman’s Year of School Choice?

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Professional Development Webinar
Strategies for Improving Student Outcomes with Teacher-Student Relationships
Explore strategies for strengthening teacher-student relationships and hear how districts are putting these methods into practice to support positive student outcomes.
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Transform Teaching and Learning with AI
Increase productivity and support innovative teaching with AI in the classroom.
Content provided by Promethean
Curriculum Webinar Computer Science Education Movement Gathers Momentum. How Should Schools React?
Discover how schools can expand opportunities for students to study computer science education.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Choice & Charters Biden Administration Tightens Rules on Charter School Funding Program
The U.S. Department of Education responded to over 25,000 public comments in making its final revision of charter school funding rules.
7 min read
Students in Monica Farren’s 6th grade English class read outside during a poetry exercise at Albert Einstein Academy Charter Middle School in San Diego.
Students in a 6th grade English class read outside during a poetry exercise at Albert Einstein Academy Charter Middle School in San Diego. The U.S. Department of Education released final rules for the Charter School Program, a federal grant that provides money to schools in their first three years of operation.
Sandy Huffaker for Education Week
School Choice & Charters Opinion The Biden Administration Is Right: Charters Need to Be More Accountable
The proposed changes to the federal Charter School Program are just common sense, write Jitu Brown and Randi Weingarten.
Jitu Brown & Randi Weingarten
3 min read
Illustration of students and teachers holding puzzle pieces.
<b>F. Sheehan/Education Week and iStock/Getty</b>
School Choice & Charters What's Behind the Fight Over the Biden Administration's Stance on Charter School Funding
Proposed new rules for federal charter school funding have drawn the ire of many in the charter school community.
8 min read
Publish Charter school parents stage a counter protest as thousands of public school teachers, administrators and supports march through the streets of Sacramento during a protest held at the California State Capitol urging state legislators to provide more funding for public schools in Sacramento, Calif., on May 22, 2019.
Publish Charter school parents stage a counter protest during a march in Sacramento, Calif., that advocated for more funding for public schools in 2019.
Jessica Christian/San Francisco Chronicle via AP
School Choice & Charters Opinion Families May Like Their School But Want More Options. That’s Where Course Choice Comes In
Educational choices have grown inside each school as a result of the pandemic. Families should take advantage of this.
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty