Happy Birthday Milton Friedman, ‘Father of School Vouchers’

Today, the late Noble-Prize winning economist and one of the greatest freedom fighter of our lifetime Milton Friedman would have celebrated his 98th birthday. By far, the most admired trait of Friedman was his presentation of the ideas of liberty. As one of the true geniuses of the 20th century, he was an excellent communicator who successfully explained complex economic theories in a simple manner. He was a spokesman for capitalism who inspired countless individuals through his intelligence and kindness. While he faced his fair share of angry commentators, Friedman always kept his calm demeanor and had a smile on his face. He understood that name calling and insults were counterproductive tactics only used to distract from the real issue at hand.

Milton Friedman is known for a variety of accomplishments that have advanced freedom in America. Often, Friedman’s ideas were ahead of their time. One idea that was particularly close to his heart was allowing children to escape their failing government-run school. Friedman who is considered the “father of school vouchers,” first introduced the revolutionary idea as a professor at the University of Chicago in 1955. Although it was a controversial idea at the time, school vouchers have become a tried and true method of reforming failing school districts. In 1996, Milton and his wife Rose founded the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation to promote the rapidly expanding idea of school choice. Although Milton and Rose are no longer with us, their school voucher legacy still lives on.

Since the passing of Milton Friedman in 2006, the school choice movement has continued to spread across the nation. Less than a year before his death, he expressed his growing optimism for the future of school choice saying, “I remain optimistic for several reasons. One, there is increasing dissatisfaction with the schools on the part of parents. Two, there is widening interest in and support of greater parental choice. Third, some 20 states or more have various kinds of voucher-type proposals under consideration.”

Lately, parents in Pennsylvania are demanding that they have the opportunity to choose their child’s school based on their unique needs. A promising bill, Senator Anthony William’s (D-Philadelphia) Opportunity Scholarship Act SB 1405, currently in the Pennsylvania State Senate would grant low-income students financial assistance to attend the school of their choice.

Children trapped in chronically failing public schools with more than 40 percent of students scoring below the basic range on state assessment tests will finally be allowed to receive the education that they deserve. Pennsylvania’s Opportunity Scholarship Act is a win-win: students will have the opportunity to attend a better school and taxpayers would save money in the process. If passed, the Opportunity Scholarship will join several other similar school choice initiatives across the country.

During the last decade of Milton Friedman’s life, he fortunately saw the passing of multiple programs designed to give children more control over their education. To be fair, Friedman was a strong advocate of a universal school voucher program that would allow all children to choose their preferred school. So far, all of the school voucher programs enacted have been designed to give vouchers solely to poor children. While Friedman found this to be an encouraging step in the right direction, he favored a more far-reaching solution where “every family in the U.S. will be able to choose for itself the school to which its children go.”

While we still remain far from Friedman’s ultimate vision, the current school choice reforms have produced promising results. For instance, the Milwaukee Parental Choice program is a widely popular school voucher program that has increased math scores and raised high school graduation rates. Additionally, parents are far more satisfied and involved in their child’s education. The successful Milwaukee voucher program operates at half the cost of the traditional Milwaukee public school. Friedman likely would be optimistic that states such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey are moving towards the direction of creating similar initiatives that produce better educational outcomes at a lower cost.

In recent years, the school choice movement has become stronger than ever. All of the nation’s school choice programs prove that Milton Friedman’s original theories were correct. As Friedman wrote 55 years ago, school vouchers “would make for more effective competition among various types of schools and for a more efficient utilization of their resources.” Simply put, freedom works. The freedom movement may have lost one of its greatest communicators but Friedman’s legacy will live on forever. Thousands of inner-city children have had the opportunity to receive a better education thanks to Friedman’s efforts. Years ago, he stated in his typical polite and calm manner “we’re here to try to make the world a little better than we found it.” And he did. Milton Friedman’s ideas shaped the world into a better and freer place.