Milton Friedman’s contribution to 20th century economics is indisputable. But economics isn’t the only area where he had a vested interest. Friedman had a vision for transforming education through free market principles.

In a 1983 article for Newsweek, Friedman wrote,

Schools are now run by professional bureaucrats. Monopoly and uniformity have replaced competition and diversity… Control by producers has replaced control by consumers…

You cannot make a monopolistic supplier of a service pay much attention to its customers’ wants—especially when it does not get its funds directly from its customers.

He went on to describe the answer:

The only solution is to break the monopoly, introduce competition and give the customers alternatives.

Thus began the fight for school choice. The Friedman’s ideal model was a voucher system, where parents could choose the kind of education that would meet their child’s needs, and their tax dollars would follow that decision.

In another article for Newsweek, Friedman described the advantages a voucher system would provide:

This plan would harness the enormous potential of a free market to improve the quality of schooling and to broaden the range of alternatives open to our children—black and white, rich and poor, gifted and slow. As in other areas, we can all benefit by using the market: parents, students, taxpayers and teachers.

So much did Milton and Rose Friedman believe in the importance of school choice that in 1996 they started a foundation solely devoted to it:
“This foundation is the culmination of what has been one of our main interests for more than four decades: improvement in the quality of the education available to children of all income and social classes in this nation, whether that education is provided in government or private schools or at home. “

Originally called the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation, it is now known as the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. Today the foundation is a leader in advancing a variety of educational options from voucher programs to tax credit scholarships to alternative education options. Their mission: “to advance Milton and Rose Friedman’s vision of school choice for all children.”

Using the Friedman Foundation website’s search function, you can find each state’s school choice options. Search for Washington, and here’s what comes up:  “Washington does not have a private school choice program. The state does not have a charter school law.” Not good news.

But it goes on to say, “Washington enables public virtual schooling. Open enrollment exists, both for intradistrict and interdistrict public school choice.” Public virtual schooling, combined with intradistrict and interdistrict school choice, is allowing students from all walks of life to access an alternative to the monopolistic traditional public school system. It also infuses competition into public schooling. Finally, it’s a starting point to whet the public’s appetite for more school choice options.

This week we honor Milton Friedman’s birthday. We do so not only today but all year round by carrying on his legacy of school choice for all. Learn more about online learning at the Freedom Foundation’s iLearn Project and find out if your district offers online options.

As Friedman said, “The best is yet to come as competition and the market work their wonders.”


Diana is the Senior Policy Analyst for Education Reform and director of the Freedom Foundation’s iLearn Project. A former middle school Humanities teacher, Diana taught on the south side of Seattle where she developed two primary text-based interdisciplinary humanities curricula.

Diana is a regular contributor to Living Liberty, the Freedom Foundation’s monthly publication. She blogs on and and has been published in a number of in-state and out-of-state newspapers. Diana has appeared as a guest on more than a dozen talk radio shows across the country.


[Reprinted from the Freedom Foundation blog.]