Editor’s note: This commentary from Jeff Yass, co-founder and managing director of Philadelphia-based Susquehanna International Group and an early investor in TikTok, appeared Tuesday on forbes.com.
Milton Friedman was not only a brilliant economist, but he was prescient on the potential for markets to drive a demand for education freedom. In 2005, when educational mediocrity was on the rise, he predicted there would be a breakthrough in how we deliver education. “We shall get a universal voucher plan in one or more states,” he said.
And sure enough, Friedman was right, even if his prediction was a long-time coming and not yet fully realized.
He first discussed his idea for universal education savings accounts in his 1955 essay, “The Role of Government in Education.” Arguing that empowering parents with the right, and resources, to choose schools for their children would spur competition. With these financial resources, Friedman wrote:
“Parents could express their views about schools directly, by withdrawing their children from one school and sending them to another…” This, Friedman reasoned, would lead to greater efficiencies, cost effectiveness and improved overall quality of education.
Friedman’s thoughts weren’t put into action until 34 years later when, in 1989, Wisconsin passed the nation’s first funding legislation. To be fair, the motivation here was not to test Friedman’s economic theories. It was far more personal and practical. Milwaukee public schools were failing to provide children with an education and parents had no way to enroll them elsewhere.
To address this crisis – and for the families whose children were trapped in failing schools, it was a crisis – Wisconsin adopted the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. Authored and championed by education freedom pioneer, Assemblywoman Polly Williams, the program was the first in the nation to allow public funds to be used to help low-income families enroll in private schools and to give parents options in where their children were educated.
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