01/2003 The Friedman Report: Parents Could Split Voucher Among Vendors

Published January 1, 2003

School vouchers traditionally have been viewed as education checks that parents would sign over to the school of their choice for a year’s worth of educational services for their child.

But what if schools of the future evolve into something like the retail apparel business, where consumers don’t spend their clothing dollars only at full-service department stores, but share it also among discount stores and a range of specialized outlets for footwear, rainwear, dresses, shirts, made-to-measure suits, and so on?

“Partial vouchers” would handle this kind of development, suggested Milton Friedman in a recent interview with Pearl Rock Kane published in the Winter 2003 issue of Education Next. The Nobel Laureate questioned the assumption that a child should get all of his or her schooling in one brick building and suggested a school voucher could be divided among different vendors of educational services.

“Why not let [parents] spend part of a voucher for math in one place and English or science somewhere else?” asked Friedman. “Why should schooling have to be in one building? Why can’t a student take some lessons at home, especially now, with the availability of the Internet?”

There’s no reason to expect a competitive K-12 education market would look anything like the present market, said Friedman, explaining the mix and type of schools that survived would depend on which ones satisfied their customers.

“Neither you nor I is imaginative enough to dream of what real competition, a real free market, could produce, what kind of innovations would emerge,” Friedman told Kane, an associate professor of education at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

The major effect of vouchers would be to reduce the gap between the quality of schooling received by inner-city children versus what is delivered to children from high-income families, explained Friedman. That gap couldn’t get any wider than it is now, he said. “It can only get narrower.”

Education Next is a publication of the Hoover Institution. In addition to the Friedman interview, the Winter 2003 edition includes articles on teacher certification, charter schools, special education, school reform in Chicago and Philadelphia, and an analysis of whether the Windy City’s rising test scores are genuine.

For more information …

Pearl Rock Kane’s interview with Milton Friedman, titled “Choice & Freedom,” is available at the Web site of Education Next at http://www.educationnext.org/20031/57.html. An unabridged version of the interview is available at http://www.educationnext.org/unabridged/20031/kane.pdf.

Further information about Education Next, including the contents of the current issue and back issues, plus subscription information, is available at http://www.educationnext.org.