Today, the school choice movement still recognizes the significance of Friedman to all the progress that's been made in advancing school choice. Friday would have been Friedman's 103rd birthday, and the movement took an opportunity to reflect on his work.
Milton Friedman was one of the first school choice advocates. Back in 1955, the economist and eventual Nobel laureate lamented in an essay that government pays for and runs most schools in a country that is otherwise "predominantly free enterprise in organization and philosophy." Friedman wanted an education system that would "center attention on the person rather than the institution."
To do so, Friedman proposed government grants to families to pay for education. Today, these grants are sometimes called school vouchers or opportunity scholarships. A new form of grants called educational savings accounts are now available in several states.
"Government, preferably local governmental units, would give each child, through his parents, a specified sum to be used solely in paying for his general education; the parents would be free to spend this sum at a school of their own choice, provided it met certain minimum standards laid down by the appropriate governmental unit," Friedman wrote.
"Milton Friedman is the father of school choice — one of the greatest legacies of the Nobel winning economist," Susan Meyers, national media relations director of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, told the Washington Examiner. "For decades his vision of choice for all students and parents was debated as noble. But in the past three years we've seen that dream become reality. There are now 51 private school choice programs in 24 states and Washington, D.C. — most offering segments of the student population school choice. But Nevada this year set the standard of Milton's vision of school choice for all when it adopted Education Savings Accounts — a new type of school choice tool — to give all children the opportunity to pick an education that works for them." Friedman and his wife, Rose, founded the Friedman Foundation in 1996. Rose was a noted economist in her own right.
"The work — and name — of Milton Friedman continues to be a huge asset to school choice supporters," Neal McCluskey, director of the libertarian Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom, told the Examiner. "Just being able to say 'Milton Friedman wanted this' is immensely powerful, and Friedman's work is an indispensable touchstone whenever we get bogged down in political grappling and need a reenergizing reminder of what choice is all about."
"Dr. Friedman's influence continues to grow in the field of education with dozens of private choice programs having been enacted across the country," Matthew Ladner, senior adviser of policy and research for the Foundation for Excellence in Education, told the Examiner. "Without Dr. Friedman's work, school choice would likely be confined to debates over school district transfer policies and magnet schools. … When it comes to Dr. Friedman's education legacy, we're just getting started and the best is yet to come."
"Milton Friedman's legacy of freedom has undoubtedly influenced school choice today," Kara Kerwin, president of the Center for Education Reform told the Examiner. "It's imperative for Parent Power that more states implement policies that allow more parents to choose the best education option for their child."
"Milton Friedman's vision laid the ground work for what has grown to become an education revolution," Betsy DeVos, chairman of the American Federation for Children, told the Examiner. "Milton Friedman deserves credit for starting the education revolution underway by reimaging the public investment in education -- where dollars follow a child, rather than a child following the dollars. It was this impetus that lit the spark of the education revolution underway today."
Friedman passed away in 2006 at the age of 94.
This article was updated on July 31 to include the statement from DeVos.