Milton Friedman on School Choice

I need spend no time whatsoever on the proposition
that the state of schooling–elementary, secondary, higher schooling–in the United States is
deplorable. That evidence is available for all of us to see. It is a conclusion that
all of us recognize and are aware of. At the lower levels we have seen problems arise,
particularly in the major cities and particularly in the inner cities. We have seen problems
of discipline, problems of schools becoming places for keeping people rather than for
schooling and educating people. One reason, the immediate reason, the reason
that we can all see, is the increasing centralization and bureaucratization of schooling. Education
has increasingly become centralized, has increasingly moved away from the control of the local community to the control of broader and broader communities. It has moved away from control of the parents
to control by educational administrators. Now there’s nothing wrong with educational
administrators; they’re fine people. Indeed, some of my best friends are educational administrators.
So I have no prejudice against them. But as in every area, the question is: Is the ultimate
task of schooling the children running the administrators, or are the administrators
running that task? Who is in the saddle? So you have a crystal clear illustration of
the tendency that the more you centralize authority and bureaucratize it, the more it
costs you to produce less and less. Now let me turn to my more fundamental reason.
Why is it that the role of government in education has been increasing? Why is it that the parents
have been given less control and the administrators more? The increasing role of government in education is true not only at the elementary level, not only at the secondary level, it is also
true at the university and college level. Fundamentally, I believe, it reflects part
of a general shift from the philosophy of individual responsibility that prevailed in
the nineteenth and early twentieth century to an increasing belief in social responsibility.
The nineteenth century view was that an individual was fundamentally responsible for
himself. It was up to him to make his way in the world, he was responsible for his
success, and he had to bear the responsibility for his failures. Of course everybody realizes, everybody realized then, that an individual was much affected by the circumstances of
the society, that an individual who was fortunate enough to be in the United States could do
a lot better with his life than an individual who was born in India or in Africa or in a
less-developed country. So this wasn’t to say that society didn’t matter, but it
was to say that the function of government and of the social setting was to provide the
individual with the maximum opportunity to express his own values, to develop his own
capacities in accordance with his own values and own beliefs.
How can you give parents more power? There is a very simple scheme for doing so. It is
a scheme that is very old, that I personally happen to have been trying to recommend and
propose now for over twenty years. It is called the voucher plan, and it is a very simple
plan. It says you are a parent, you are sending your children to school, the government is
providing public schools for your children to go to; if you decide you would like to
send your child to another school, a private school, you’re saving the city money–the
city of New York today doesn’t have to spend $2,728 per pupil to school those children
who are going to nonpublic schools. Therefore, the city should say “Very well. If you relieve
us of the expense of schooling your child, we will give you a voucher, a piece of paper,
worth a certain sum of money which you may use for one purpose and one purpose only,
to pay the cost of schooling your child in any school you want him to go to.” I say
the city of New York would save $2,728, but I want to make this proposal attractive to
everybody; and I think it would be very attractive to parents, if instead of their getting a
voucher for $2,728, they were to get a voucher for $2,000 or $1,500 or $1,000. In the usual
rule I would estimate that to have schooling provided privately of better quality would
cost half as much, so that if you gave parents $1,500 they would be able to acquire with
that better schooling than they’re now getting for the $2,700 that is being spent on their
account. The voucher scheme would say any parent who chooses to send his child to a
school other than the governmental public school is entitled to a voucher which he can
use for the payment of tuition and costs at that school. It’s exactly the same principle
that was applied after World War II, and much more recently in the so-called GI Bill for
returning veterans. They chose their school–this was at the college level, they went to the
University of Chicago or they went to Notre Dame, or they went to NYU or City College
or wherever they went to–and they were entitled to receive, as long as they could show they
were going to school, so much per month. In that case the voucher covered not only tuition
but also living expenses. So I do not mean to say that the road is easy,
but I only say that first, we know what the right thing to do is, and second, there is
support for it. There are people who are interested in this. There are possibilities of moving
in this direction and it is the most promising direction, the only way I can see that we
have a hope of turning around the trend that has been going on. So I say to you, go to
it parents. You have everything to gain for your children. Thank you.

  1. Liberty… I'm not sure that word is taught in public school… It seems to me that word has been replaced with entitlement…

  2. Also, so you know, you can watch almost all of our full productions, free, at

    However, these youtube clips are designed to educate in shorter clips.

  3. First it's state education at the expense of home education. But now it's upbringing. Here in Croatia we almost had "School health education" which was to instill gay propaganda to little children. Family is the primary place of teaching values, not school, at least not at a systematic level.
    Even though we're a "democratic" country, the vestiges of communism are still very strong.

  4. “There are no shekels without shackles. The government is never going to give you money without attached requirements, even for ‘opportunity scholarships,’ as vouchers are called today.

    Example: “A Florida proposal for school vouchers insisted that (1) you can’t require a child to attend a religious chapel, (2) you can’t discriminate in hiring practices, and (3) you can’t select students from just your church body, but must open the school to anyone who wants to attend. Also with the government’s fresh take on what constitutes male and female, your place of learning must provide transgender bathrooms.” Amireh Al-Haddad

    Vouchers are a Trojan Horse for private schools. The money will bring the regs, and pretty soon they will become government schools, just like public schools have become. And then there will be NO choice, because all choices will be the same.

  5. Students are no longer taught that they can learn and how to learn. They are pushed to pass standardized test, not how to think.

  6. Yes sounds nice until the demand for that school causes the price of that tuition to go up and the parents don't have the money to pay for it or the school they want to send their kids to doesn't have enough capacity.

    Might as well just send them to private school on their own.

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