Milton Friedman would be delighted. The Nevada legislature has passed and Governor Brian Sandoval has signed into law the nation’s most sweeping “school choice” initiative. It is due to become operational in early 2016, assuming legal challenges fail.
Responding to dismal national rankings of the state’s public school system overall, the law follows Friedman’s analysis and recommendations in many respects: it gives parents who pull their kids out of public schools vouchers worth roughly the cost of sending them to those schools - $5,700 a year for low income families and $5,100 for middle and upper income families.
Parents choose. These funds can be spent on private or parochial school tuition, homeschooling, or tutoring. Overall state funding for education increased $400 million, recognizing additional costs in school choice. But now the public school system will suffer if it cannot meet the heightened competition for students from a variety of new providers.
An interesting caveat, to prevent a windfall for parents already sending children to private schools, is that students must have attended a public school for a minimum of 100 days before they can receive a voucher. But the students at the Davidson Academy in Reno, a nationally-ranked selective public high school for “the profoundly gifted” sponsored by the University of Nevada, are unlikely to switch. They already are receiving a top-flight education, i.e. they are competitive.
The establishment resists. Of course, guardians of the administrative state have leapt to the ramparts. The Nevada chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit against the new law, arguing that parents who use their vouchers for parochial schools will mean that public funds are being used for sectarian purposes. More recently, a foundation-funded advocacy group, Educate Nevada Now, has joined the fray against the law. Bad mouthing letters to the editor from unionized teachers abound.
Milton wins. While Nevada’s initiative is the most sweeping school choice reform enacted to date, the Washington Post points out that since 2006, 27 states have enacted laws that transfer public dollars to private schools – either through tax credits, vouchers, or education savings accounts.
In this sector of the economy, at least, public pressure, “the laboratory of the states” and federalism are alive and kicking – and Milton Friedman’s 1983 Newsweek article on “Busting the School Monopoly” shows the continuing power of good ideas forcefully presented. Read it.