Happy Birthday, Milton Friedman

Happy Birthday, Milton Friedman
July 30, 2013

Joy Pullmann

Joy Pullmann is a research fellow on education policy for The Heartland Institute and managing... (read full bio)

School Choice Weekly, Issue #2

Monetary theory netted the late economist Milton Friedman his Nobel Prize, but an important part of his legacy was his efforts to limit government’s role in schools to funding, not running, them. Friedman’s birthday is July 31. He would have been 101 this year. The past three years have brought an outpouring of fruit from the intellectual seeds he planted some 60 years ago in an essay titled “The Role of Government in Education.”

That essay makes the now-unremarkable observation that the government does not have to run everything it funds. Indeed, Friedman observed things usually work better when the government is not running them. Like our Founders, Friedman justified government support of education on the grounds that not doing so would mean larger pockets of poorly educated citizens and fewer life opportunities for the poor. But he strongly opposed government subsidy for vocational or business-oriented education, because that meant society bearing all the costs while individuals reaped most of the benefits.

Because “a stable and democratic society is impossible without a minimum degree of literacy and knowledge on the part of most citizens and without widespread acceptance of some common set of values,” Friedman wrote, government should require a basic education and fund it, but let families decide how to use those funds to meet this mandate. This would inevitably reduce the costs for everyone while providing for a better education system overall and would give parents more freedom: “The parent who would prefer to see money used for better teachers and texts rather than coaches and corridors [currently] has no way of expressing this preference except by persuading a majority to change the mixture for all.”

Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia now offer families the freedoms Friedman suggested, and research has continuously supported his belief that school choice reduces costs, increases quality, and provides economic and social opportunity, especially for our most needy neighbors.

Near the end of his life, Friedman was asked where he would place school choice on his list of accomplishments, should it become reality. “It would rank first,” he replied.

SOURCES: Reason Magazine, Friedman Foundation


School Choice Roundup

  • NORTH CAROLINA: In the past week, lawmakers have passed bills ending K-12 teacher tenure, introducing low-income and special-needs vouchers, and merit pay. The vouchers would be worth up to $4,200 for low-income children and up to $6,000 for special-needs children. Together, they would make nearly half the state’s children eligible for private school choice.
  • CALIFORNIA: The first school to be converted under Parent Trigger legislation will reopen this fall. Nationwide, lawmakers are watching the experiment in which parents of children stuck in dropout factories receive the power to require reforms.
  • VOUCHERS 2.0: A new report outlines three ways states can convert school choice programs to education savings accounts, or “next-gen vouchers.” ESAs give parents even more control over their children’s education by allowing them to divide state education funds among many options, such as books, tutoring, and classes. This allows for even more individually tailored education and has been pioneered in Arizona first for special-needs kids and now for nearly half the state’s students.
  • NEW HAMPSHIRE: Several parties are appealing to the state supreme court after an appeals court ruled parents cannot use the state’s new tax-credit scholarships at religious schools. Most courts have found such scholarships never enter government coffers and thus constitute private money that can go to any school. More than 1,000 families applied to receive assistance from the $250,000 million raised for the scholarships so far.

Common Core Watch

  • GOP RIFT: Florida Sen. Marco Rubio takes a public stand against Common Core. This puts him at odds with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has been at the forefront of Republican support for the national standards and tests.
  • HOMESCHOOLERS: The Home School Legal Defense Association has established a Common Core Web site to inform families how they may be affected by student data-tracking and the nationalization of education.

Education Today

  • INDIANA: Emails reveal former state Superintendent Tony Bennett changed the school grading system to boost the score of a charter school founded by one of his campaign donors. Bennett is now Florida’s education commissioner. This is what happens when government controls education, says Greg Forster.
  • CIVICS: National history, civics, and geography tests will disappear, to be replaced by technology literacy tests. The Obama administration says the switch is due to sequestration budget cuts. Observers bemoan the loss of the only national tests that illustrate U.S. students’ appalling lack of basic history and government knowledge.

Thank you for reading! If you need a quicker fix of news about school choice, you can find daily updates online in the Ed News Roundup at http://news.heartland.org/education.

If you’d like me and The Heartland Institute to “keep up the good work ” on education issues, please consider making a contribution today!

Joy Pullmann

Joy Pullmann is a research fellow on education policy for The Heartland Institute and managing... (read full bio)