Milton Friedman would have turned 100 this week. As one of the most influential economic thinkers of the 20th century, he is known as a proponent of the free market and a strong private sector; in short, a champion of freedom and personal responsibility.
He was also a champion of school choice. Indeed, one of his most enduring legacies is The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, a true leader in the effort to expand the rights of students and parents across the country.
Over the last several years, the Friedman Foundation has seen its school choice advocacy start to pay off in a big way. Many states have instituted sweeping choice reform.
Florida has an education tax credit program that grows yearly so long as participation numbers approach their allotted cap. In 2010, Indiana instituted the nation’s largest first-year voucher program; participating schools immediately out-performed public schools on the ISTEP test, their equivalent to the Texas STAAR exam. And recently, Louisiana instituted a massive statewide choice program that included education vouchers and a “parent-trigger” law, which would give parents the right to step in and institute change if their children’s public school is failing.
For its part, Texas still has a long way to go when it comes to the parental empowerment and freedom that the Friedman Foundation has championed. There is no reason for us not to be a leader in this arena, and yet the fact of the matter is that parental options for educating their children are very limited in Texas.
While Texas does have both district and open-enrollment charter schools, it caps the latter at 215 statewide. This cap is not meeting the demands of parents and students; at last count, the Texas Charter School Association showed a wait list of 56,000 students to enter the state’s charter schools. Significantly raising or eliminating the charter hard cap would allow new charter schools to meet that demand, and hopefully eliminate the waiting list over time.
Beyond that, vouchers and education tax credits are expanding in many other states, but they do not even exist in Texas. This is despite the documented successes of the voucher program in San Antonio’s Edgewood ISD.
Studies showed that students who participated in the privately-funded Horizon scholarship program during its 10-year existence had a greatly enhanced chance to both graduate high school and attend college. Indeed, the Edgewood school district benefitted from the program’s implementation, as it also influenced a population boom that increased property values in the area.
In short, it was a highly successful experiment in school choice that Texas has yet to replicate. Every year, Texas falls further behind states that have chosen to give their parents and students the right to school choice.
I encourage you to take some time this week to learn about the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. Not only is it an excellent way to honor the legacy of one of America’s greatest economic minds, it’s a great resource for learning about school choice and what more of such could do for Texas parents and students.
Texas is a leader in so many aspects of policy and economic vitality, which makes it mind-boggling that we continue to trail other states when it comes to school choice. Let us take a cue from Milton Friedman’s vision for a free, competitive education market and establish the Lone Star State as a leader in this arena.
James Golsan is policy analyst for the Center for Education Policy with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a nonprofit, free-market research institute based in Austin. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.