School choice has entered a new world. Americans are becoming increasingly vocal about the importance of empowering parents to choose their children’s schools, and states across the nation, including Ohio, are adopting broad-based school choice initiatives.
The “Christopher Columbus” of school choice in this country is Nobel-prize winning economist Milton Friedman, who pioneered this movement more than 50 years ago.
In 1955, Friedman introduced school choice as a way to improve the quality of American education. His idea was simple: give parents access to their children’s public education funding rather than require they attend the public schools nearest to their homes.
“Governments could require a minimum level of education which they could finance by giving parents vouchers redeemable for a specified maximum sum per child per year if spent on ‘approved’ educational services,” Friedman wrote in 1955. “Parents would then be free to spend this sum and any additional sum on purchasing educational services from an ‘approved’ institution of their own choice.”
At first, Friedman’s suggestions lived mostly as an academic exercise with little in the way of new programs. And without the reforms he suggested, the cost of public education doubled while its academic performance stayed the same. As Friedman noted, that shouldn’t come as a surprise because that’s exactly what monopolies do. They offer a product of similar, if not worse, value at a higher price than normally would be allowed if they had to compete in the free market.
But those days are over. Parents are fed up, wondering why their kids are underperforming or unmotivated in K-12 schools and unprepared for their college courses and future careers. They want the life-changing opportunity to choose the school that will best prepare their child for lifelong success. Parents are demanding that their children receive a high quality education that best meets their learning needs.
Because of that sentiment, last year a historic number of choice programs were enacted across the country. Substantiating that momentum, The Wall Street Journal called 2011 “The Year of School Choice” and school choice programs have continued to expand in 2012.
Today, 18 states and the District of Columbia provide some type of private school choice for their residents. Already in 2012, Virginia has joined the school choice “family;” New Hampshire’s legislature has passed a school choice measure; Florida and Arizona expanded their programs; and Louisiana dramatically increased the scope of its school voucher program.
In Ohio, we recently saw the creation of the Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship Program, a scholarship that allows any student with special needs to attend the public or private school of their choice. Along with Ohio’s three other school voucher programs – the EdChoice Scholarship Program, the Cleveland Scholarship and Tutoring Program, and the Ohio Autism Scholarship Program – and a growing number of outstanding public school options, Ohio families now enjoy more opportunities than ever to find a great school that is a great fit for their children.
This month would have been Milton Friedman’s 100th birthday. Though it took America more than 50 years to reach today’s environment in which parent empowerment in education is celebrated and not ridiculed, the battle was worth it.
As the school choice movement gathers momentum, it is changing lives one by one as it allows students to reach their true potential and empowers parents with options.