On the late Milton Friedman’s 100th birthday today, his words are truer than ever: “There is no respect in which inhabitants of a low-income neighborhood are so disadvantaged as in the kind of schooling they can get for their children.”
And the news from many parts of the country is disheartening. Despite a new school choice option for students in Louisiana, a teachers union there has threatened to sue private schools that accept voucher students this fall. Unions have fought school choice initiatives because they see options for students eroding their power structure.
The Administration is also fighting students’ best interest. Instead of promoting what works—school choice, empowering parents and students—President Obama just issued an executive order last week creating a new federal bureaucracy to single out African-American students for more government meddling in their education. The order states that:
substantial obstacles to equal educational opportunity still remain in America’s educational system. African Americans lack equal access to highly effective teachers and principals, safe schools, and challenging college-preparatory classes, and they disproportionately experience school discipline and referrals to special education.
The new White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans is supposed to “help expand educational opportunities, improve educational outcomes, and deliver a complete and competitive education for all African Americans.”
This is to be done “in part by supporting efforts to improve the recruitment, preparation, development, and retention of successful African American teachers and school leaders and other effective teachers and school leaders responsible for the education of African American students.”
America’s students don’t need teachers hand-picked for them by the teachers unions or by the federal government. They need the power to pick their own teachers. Parents need the freedom to send their children to the school of their choice—to find the academic and social environment that works best for them.
The old way isn’t working. The District of Columbia is spending nearly $30,000 per student “in a district that has one of the lowest graduation rates in the nation and produces some of the country’s lowest achievement scores,” laments Heritage’s Rachel Sheffield. This spending hasn’t changed the fact that “the graduation rate for D.C. students hovers around 60 percent, well below the nationwide average of 74 percent. Math and reading scores are also among the lowest in the country.”
D.C. is even paying students “with poor academic and behavioral records” to attend summer school, according to The Washington Examiner.
That isn’t the end of the story, however. Heritage’s Lindsey Burke reminds us that Friedman’s work on behalf of educational freedom goes on:
Today, we have a growing number of innovative school choice options—charters, vouchers, tax credits, online learning, and education savings accounts, to name a few. These options were conceived in the mind of Friedman and are being brought to life by reform-oriented governors and legislators across the country.
Funding for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, which allows children from low-income homes to escape the underperforming D.C. public schools and attend a private school of their choice, was saved for a year after President Obama threatened to end it altogether.
States are implementing school choice reforms because the results are astoundingly positive. According to federally mandated evaluations of the D.C. program, student achievement has increased, and graduation rates of voucher students have increased significantly. Graduation rates in D.C. public schools languish (hovering around 55 percent), and the public school system ranks last in the country in terms of academic achievement. Yet, students who used a voucher to attend private school had a 91 percent graduation rate.
As Friedman said, we will see improvements in education only “by privatizing a major segment of the educational system—i.e., by enabling a private, for-profit industry to develop that will provide a wide variety of learning opportunities and offer effective competition to public schools.”
Our students deserve the best, and they will choose it when given the opportunity.