If you want to see an area where free-market ideas have actually made a ton of progress, look at the school-choice movement in America.
As many of us know, Nobel Prize winner and libertarian economist Milton Friedman is the intellectual innovator behind the idea that every child deserves a high quality education and every parent deserves to choose where his child gets it. As Friedman told Reason’s Brian Doherty in a 1995 interview, while he favored a totally private education system, he saw the voucher system as a step in moving away from a government system to a private one.
Friedman’s school-choice idea has come a long way, When he started formulating the idea in 1955, and developed it fully in his 1962 book Free to Choose, everyone thought he was crazy. I heard that at the time of the book’s publication, his colleagues at the University of Chicago told him that while they could support him on many of his free-market ideas, especially his position on monetary policy, school choice was a ridiculous concept that would never ever come to fruition.
If the story’s true, they were wrong. When the Democratic governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, is championing school choice, standing by Eva Moskowitz, a Democrat and educational-reform champion who runs the city’s largest charter network, against progressive mayor Bill de Blasio, or when Democratic mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel is defending charter schools in his city from union attacks, you know that Friedman’s vision is making serious progress. New Jersey, of all places, is another state where charter schools are becoming increasingly popular and parents’ first choice.
And now it’s come to solidly Democratic Philadelphia, too — I was very interested yesterday to listen to this interview by the Wall Street Journal’s Mary Kissel of Boys’ Latin of Philadelphia Charter School’s CEO, David Hardy, on why parents in the city are increasingly standing up for school choice.
Philadelphia’s school-choice movement is launching a big ad campaign to promote charter schools in the city, arguing that charters offer choices to low-income parents and provide better educations for kids who used to be stuck in failing public schools. In Philadelphia, an amazing one-third of public-school students go to charter schools. But as Mr. Hardy notes, it’s not quite enough yet. Parents with resources still have more choices: They are and always were able to send their kids to private schools if they don’t like their neighborhood public schools. That exit option is still not available to more low-income parents, but could be under a voucher system.
The whole interview is interesting throughout. It also touches on the challenges that Philadelphia charter schools face from interest groups invested in limiting parents access to more educational choice.