A school choice classic, revisited

John E. Coons:

The second book, “Family Choice in Education” (Institute of Government Studies, 1971), was essentially the text of a model statute for parental choice with substantial comment by Steve and myself upon each section. The model presupposed the participation of public as well as private schools in the market created by vouchers.

The question of subsidized choice was, by then, in the academic air. What remained to be written, we supposed, was a more accessible display and critique of the various arguments for and against choice, one addressed to all serious readers. The existing literature was good but remote, academic and largely unread. The possible exception was Friedman’s brief but classic portrayal of an unregulated system that would bestow vouchers of the same dollar value upon parents of every income level. The idea was simple, clear and attractive – but a bit too much so.

I had known Friedman rather well in Chicago. He had been an oft-repeated guest on my half-hour weekly radio show – later I appeared on his television show. Both of us had, in the late ‘60s, moved west to the Bay – he to San Francisco, I to Berkeley, where Steve was soon to be my colleague. About 1973, the latter and I concluded that the market of serious readers deserved a more complete and accessible argument for a form of parental choice more inviting than that of the “libertarians,” a system that would take a form more engaging for political centrists. It would describe a form of governmental engagement that would in practice empower those parents of low or modest income who had for so long suffered de facto conscription of their child by the public system – literally segregation by wealth.

So at last came EBC in 1978; and at long last I have re-read it. I feel the satisfaction typical of geezers who rediscover, then relive, something to be proud of, some deed or artifact that is still in the game. EBC now appears to me sufficient as a battle plan for beginning the rescue of the conscripted parent and child, not trying to exterminate public education but, rather, inviting it to become truly public. This just might be a time and place where interested parties can join freely in common cause – the enhancement of young lives, the professionalization of education, the strengthening of families and the good of the civil order.