This week, PLF and many of our friends in the liberty movement are celebrating National School Choice Week, a week dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of parental choice in reforming our system of education.
Many credit the early popularization of the school choice movement to the iconic, Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman. In Friedman’s 1955 article “The Role of Government in Education” he articulated the intellectual foundation for school vouchers and the idea that injecting more personal choice and competition into education can correct many of the deficiencies inherent in the stubborn bureaucracy of public school systems.
In a 2005 interview with Reason, Friedman explained, “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.”
Economists can be expected to be enthusiastic about competition; it provides the element of accountability that tends to force prices down and quality up. As my colleague blogged yesterday, committing more and more money to a competition-less government system and expecting improvements in quality is a failing strategy. I think it’s also important to point out just who that strategy is failing most.
Friedman mentions a “two-tiered society” and that’s no exaggeration. In one tier are those who will have the means to choose between their local public school and paying more for a private school or providing home schooling. In the other tier are those who can’t afford to pay more for a private school, or who don’t have the capability to home school their children—those without a choice.
When education is the single best chance a child has to climb out of poverty, it makes no sense to hold competitive, innovative schools—which often get better results with less money—just out of reach of those who need them most. Yet time and again, when school choice programs try to extend the benefits of private choice and competition in education to the poor, teachers unions and the party of “progress” fight tooth and nail to defend the status quo.
That status quo, of course, keeps teachers unions’ political war chests well funded, but it does so at the cost of keeping poor, minority children stuck in violent, failing schools that keep them from rising above their circumstances—schools where no parent would send their child if they had a choice.
Thanks to the school choice movement, more and more people are seeing that there’s no good reason to have a system that divides us into those who can afford to choose and those who have to take whatever their public school system dishes out.