Report Grades Nation’s School Choice Programs

Published May 1, 2008

A February study by the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice offers a valuable evaluation of school choice programs in 21 states.

The report, “Grading School Choice: Evaluating School Choice Programs by the Friedman Gold Standard,” measured each program against standards set by Milton Friedman in the 1950s.

Friedman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, argued “the most effective way to improve K-12 education and thus ensure a stable democracy is to separate government financing of education from government administration of schools,” the report notes. “Government should provide funds for every child to receive an education, and the role of government in education should be limited to ensuring that schools meet minimum standards for things such as health and safety.”

Friedman Foundation Executive Director Robert Enlow said the report is meant to remind school choice advocates of Friedman’s vision and give legislators nationwide a model for reference as they consider reforms–whether they’re creating new laws or improving those already on the books.

“They can say, ‘If we are going to improve, here is what we can do,'” Enlow explained. “For example in Cleveland we are trying to increase the dollar amount [of the citywide voucher program].”

Forming Models

Cleveland’s public schools receive a much higher per-pupil dollar amount than do families of students enrolled in the voucher program. Enlow said “the full amount should follow the child” no matter which school the student chooses to attend.

In states that have no school choice options, advocates can use the report to encourage good legislation.

“You could consider, for example, what good design looks like,” Enlow said. “Why is the Arizona program better than the Florida program? This report is a benchmark by which legislators and advocates can judge their proposed legislation and reexamine their existing programs in order to provide the broadest access and opportunities to students and families in their states.”

Basic Tenets

Enlow based his evaluation of school choice programs on three criteria:

  • Solid purchasing power. Programs that provide students with purchasing power comparable to the resources available to the public school system are graded more highly than those providing only a little money to help students seek educational services outside the public system.
  • Minimal restrictions on access. Programs that extend school choice to all students are considered better than those that discriminate on the basis of income, residence, disability, or other factors.
  • Minimal restrictions on schools. Programs that make it easier for schools to participate, without imposing unreasonable regulations and restrictions, are graded more highly than those that limit school options.

Using What Works

The report is not intended to be overly critical of existing choice programs, Enlow notes.

“In most cases, having a school choice program is better than not having one,” Enlow writes in the report. “More freedom is better than less, and we understand that while we should strive for the gold standard, we don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good.”

Most importantly, the report reaffirms the organization’s commitment to the gold standard of educational freedom established by Milton Friedman.

“We support school choice for all, not just for some, and it’s our job to constantly remind the country of the need for the most basic American freedom of universal choice in schooling,” Enlow said.

Wendy Cloyd ([email protected]) writes from Alaska.

For more information …

“Grading School Choice: Evaluating School Choice Programs by the Friedman Gold Standard,” by Robert Enlow, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, February 2008: