Year of School Choice a Great Birthday Present in Milton Friedman's Honor

The birthday of the late, great economist Milton Friedman is in two days. He would have been 99 years old. Since the anniversary of Friedman’s birth falls on a Sunday and I won’t be blogging then, what better time to commemorate him and his passionate life’s work to expand school choice? In the Education Policy Center’s ever-evolving issue paper — A Chronology of School Choice in the U.S. — senior fellow Krista Kafer describes the seminal contribution he made to this important movement:

At mid-century, the concept of a ‘voucher’ for parents first appeared in 1955 in the article “The Role of Government in Education” by economist Milton Friedman, who would later win the Nobel Prize in economics. [link added]

Robert Enlow, who heads up the Foundation for Educational Choice (created to carry on Milton and wife Rose Friedman’s legacy of school choice advocacy), penned a great op-ed yesterday that brings together a confluence of important events:

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. [emphasis added]

Of course, that one local school board is Douglas County, Colo., and you can find all the information you’d ever want about the groundbreaking Choice Scholarship Program on a page created by my Education Policy Center friends. But as I’ve pointed out before, the excitement of Douglas County’s achievement is enhanced by seeing it come with the development and growth of so many other voucher, tax credit and other private choice programs. It’s reassuring to hear another prominent education reform voice dub 2011 “The Year of School Choice.”

I don’t know for sure, but my guess is that the Foundation for Educational Choice — as much as any reform group out there — is basking in the sun of a successful year that has surpassed most anybody’s expectations… and still has 5 months to go! Passing laws and policies that enact and expand school choice programs can be a difficult but important task. Yet what can be even harder is the work of making sure that agencies implement those programs properly, that families have the information they need, and that the good news is effectively disseminated to help carry the momentum forward.

In my home we call that a good problem. Many of us may look back gratefully some day at 2011 and the numerous doors of educational opportunity it opened. But we also should never forget to look back even further to the passionate pioneering work of Milton Friedman. For now, we can consider the Year of School Choice a tremendous birthday present to honor his legacy.