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“Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman argued for the modern concept of vouchers in the 1950s, stating that competition would improve schools and cost efficiency. The view further gained popularity with the 1980 TV broadcast of Friedman’s series Free to Choose for which volume 6 was devoted entirely to promoting ‘educational freedom’ through programs like school vouchers.” — Wikipedia

See also Milton Friedman on Vouchers

Over half a century ago Milton Friedman — in a libertarian-themed attempt to separate taxes for education from government-run schools — suggested the idea of educational vouchers so that tax-money would not flow to public schools with their top-down bureaucracy and politically-mandated curricula. The tax-funded voucher would satisfy the core value stated by those who argue for universal education of children but restore academic freedom by attaching the funding to the student and allowing parents control by the voucher being spendable in a school of the parents’ choice.

Free to Choose
Free to Choose: The Complete Series
(Original 1980′s Edition)

The tax-funded educational voucher could be spent by the parent by enrolling their student in a public school, a charter school, a private school, and even a religious-based school.

Opposition to Dr. Friedman’s proposal has come from four camps:

  • Public-school teachers — particularly tenured teachers — voiced through their unions, who believe that tax-money flowing away from public schools threatens their jobs;
  • Those who want political control of what is taught to students;
  • Those who — like John Dewey — have supported public schools because they’re opposed to religion-based schools — originally Roman Catholic parochial schools in particular, but since the 1960′s Christian schools in general;
  • Libertarians concerned that the attachment of tax-funds to private schools inevitably gives the government the same control over the curriculum of private schools as exists for public schools — so only severing schooling from government entirely will produce a free-market in education.

The political lobbying against school vouchers has come overwhelmingly from teachers’ unions. The second two factions opposing separation of tax funds from public schools comes from liberal organizations, but they’re less broad-based. Libertarians, as usual, are marginal players in mainstream political debates.

What I’m proposing as an alternative to Milton Friedman’s idea may not be original with me.1 I’ve tried Googling this idea to see if it’s been suggested previously — and I emailed it to Milton Friedman’s son, David, and am awaiting his response — but I’ve come up dry so far.

What if — instead of attaching the educational voucher to the student — the educational voucher was attached to the teacher?

Thus, a teacher’s salary, pension, and other benefits would attach not to the school but to the teacher, and both public and private schools would have to compete for the teacher in order to secure that funding.

Teachers could take their vouchers to schools that empower them, rather than having teachers be a pawn in a political power struggle.

From a libertarian standpoint it’s still an imperfect idea — as imperfect by libertarian perfectionist standards as Milton Friedman’s original voucher proposal — but it has the advantage over the original educational voucher that it empowers teachers such that they are no longer dependent on the political power of their union to keep their jobs.

Still, it changes the debate, and with an educational bureaucracy failing by anyone’s standards, a fresh look with new terms of debate can’t be a bad thing.

1A later Google search located a March 21, 2001 Education Week article by Steve Cohen titled, “Maybe We’re Fighting Over The Wrong Vouchers.” Cohen, cited as “the chief executive officer of www.4to14.com, an e-learning company based in New York City” (dead web link), suggested giving “schools vouchers to purchase ‘teacher services.’” This keeps the control of education funding with school administrators rather than attaching the funding directly to teachers, to bring where they choose, and is not at all the same suggestion I’m putting forward.



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