“More than 11,000 rallies and events focusing on school choice are planned this week across the country” to celebrate National School Choice Week (NSCW), reports Mary Lou Byrd.
Economist Milton Friedman first advanced the concept of K-12 education vouchers — a system in which education tax dollars are attached to each child and follow each child to the public or private school of his/her choice.
His rationale was simple: the American public school system is a government monopoly. As happens with all monopolies, public school performance and quality are in decline, and American children as a group are falling behind their peers in other nations.
Introduce competition in K-12 education (as most other industrialized nations have), and the U.S. will (a) erase the inequality of educational opportunity between rich and poor children (i.e., between children whose families can afford private schools and children whose families can not), and (b) vastly improve the quality of education delivered by all American schools, especially government public schools. Moreover, he asserted, competition will cause public schools to become more efficient. It will apply much-needed brakes to out-of-control public education costs, since private schools typically deliver a higher quality education at about half the cost of public schools.
School choice experiments that began in the 1980s have proven Friedman correct in his assessment of expanded equality, equal opportunity, and cost-containment. Public school systems even began opening “public charter schools” as an alternative to the assigned neighborhood public school in hopes of keeping parents from choosing private school options. For all the right reasons, school choice has expanded in the U.S.
The Institute for Justice, one advocate of school choice that has “defended every major lawsuit filed against school choice programs by teachers’ unions and other opponents,” told the Washington Free Beacon this week,
School choice is on the rise like never before. There are now over 50 school-choice programs in 25 states that give parents both public and private school options, and about half of those programs have been enacted in just the past five years. … [S]tate legislatures are increasingly heeding the demands of parents, many of whom are unsatisfied with the performance of their children’s assigned public schools and want other options.
Public opinion on this issue is with the parents.
A new poll released ahead of School Choice Week shows a majority of Americans-69 percent—favors the concept of school choice. The poll, released by the American Federation for children, another partner of NSCW, also showed 63 percent support private school choice, 76 percent support public charter schools, and 65 percent believe choice and competition among schools improve education.
For all its expansion to date, however, school choice is still available to only a small percentage of the entire K-12 student population. While NSCW’s celebration is certainly warranted for the gains that have been made, it also serves as a encouraging reminder of the work that remains to make Friedman’s universal school choice vision a reality for all children in the U.S.