Universal school choice is clearest pathway to restore education

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Unlike any of the programs identified today as “school choice,” such as opportunity scholarships, charter schools and tax credits, universal school choice transfers control of education back to parents, where it rightfully belongs, by allowing public education funds to follow the child to the school chosen by the parents. These funds — substantially less than current costs but sufficient to pay for a quality education at nonpublic schools — are made available to every parent in the form of a voucher that can be cashed only by a qualified school. With parental control comes responsibility — a prerequisite to success in any endeavor.

The late, world-renowned economist Milton Friedman first proposed universal school choice in his 1955 treatise “The Role of Government in Education,” where he compared education to other services: “In most industries, consumers are free to buy the product from anyone who offers it for sale, at a price mutually agreed on. In the process, consumers determine how much is produced and by whom and producers have an incentive to satisfy their customers. These competitive private industries are organized from the bottom up. They have been responsible for truly remarkable economic growth, improvements in products and increased efficiency in production.”

Limited school choice programs around the country offer a glimpse into what to expect from a universal voucher program. The nation’s first school voucher program — limited to poor parents — for which Milwaukee residents battled from 1980 to 1990, has become a showcase for all America. Former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist points to the importance of quality schools in improving city life. He cites the voucher program for having given low-income families the chance to send their children to their pick among participating schools. He suggests that further expansion of the program, including removal of income limits that will allow everyone to participate, will result in Milwaukee becoming “the best place in the entire state of Wisconsin for K-12 education.”

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