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Milton & Rose Friedman's Legacy of School Reform

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Published on Mar 2, 2012

Why choice is winning - and helping poor kids learn.

"We have a simple problem in this country" when it comes to education, says Robert C. Enlow, president of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. "And that's a monopoly. It's not the people in the system. It's the system itself."

How bad is the problem? Consider this: Since 1970, direct per-pupil spending on K-12 public schools has more than doubled in inflation-adjusted dollars while educational outcomes for graduation high school seniors have remained flat at best.

Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman (1912-2006) introduced the concept of school vouchers in a 1955 essay and, with his wife Rose (1910-2009), created the foundation that bears their name in 1996. Based in Indianapolis, the Friedman Foundation promotes "universal school choice as the most effective and equitable way to improve the quality of K-12 education in America."

Despite resistance from teachers unions, legislators, parents at well-funded and high-performing schools, and other entrenched interests, school choice is booming in the United States, with the Wall Street Journal dubbing 2011,"the year of school choice."

Last year, eight new programs were created and 11 existing ones were strengthened or expanded, meaning that students and parents in a total of 12 states plus the District of Columbia could participate in choice programs that have access to some $1 billion in funds. Charter schools - publicly funded schools of choice that receive a fraction of the per-pupil spending given to traditional schools in exchange for greater curricular freedom - didn't exist until 1996. Now, over 2 million students are enrolled in charter schools, which claim more than 10 percent of school enrollments in over 100 cities. Nearly 2 million children are home schooled and innovative new choice programs including virtual schools, blended learning, and education savings accounts (which allow parents to spend education dollars on multiple providers) are becoming an everyday reality.

"Milton Friedman was right," says Enlow, discussing who is using the new opportunities. "A universal [school choice] program would benefit the poor tremendously, the middle class somewhat, and the rich hardly at all." But Enlow also stresses that while the revolution in K-12 education is growing, it's far from a fait accompli: "We need to amp up the calls for reform across the country."

Reason sat down with Enlow in January at the start of National School Choice Week in New Orleans.
Reason Foundation's education policy work is online here. Reason.com's education coverage is here. Reason.tv's education videos are here.

About 6 minutes.

Filmed by Tracy Oppenheimer and Sharif Matar; edited by Sharif Matar.

Go to reason.tv for downloadable versions and subscribe to Reason.tv's YouTube Channel to receive automatic notifications when new material goes live.

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