July 31 marks what would have been Milton Friedman’s 102nd birthday. He was a Nobel Prize-winning economist and key advisor to President Ronald Reagan. Above all, Friedman championed individual liberty and free markets instead of expansive and intrusive government.  This included his belief that all parents—regardless of their incomes or addresses—should be free to choose their and their children’s schools.

Yet too often expanding government instead of freedom is the default education policy “solution.” Many government programs and policies—however well-intentioned—are limiting women’s freedom to learn, teach, and choose their children’s education providers. The good news is that freedom fuels individual ingenuity and innovation. As we grow accustomed to an ever-increasing array of options our everyday lives—from coffee drinks to on-demand entertainment—we become less tolerant of government micromanaging our options concerning the aspects of our and our children’s  lives that matter most, especially education.

Fortunately, today a growing education marketplace is benefiting women and society.  More women than ever are pursuing higher education that works best for them and their career goals, making use of flexible schedules, at-home education options, and other continuing education programs.  Women are benefiting as educators, with new opportunities to use their skills and earn a living with schedules and work environments that are suited to them.  More parents than ever before are also participating in programs that allow them to choose their children’s schools and the alternative education providers they think are best.

Over 300,000 schoolchildren are attending private schools of their parents’ choice through more than 50 parental choice programs in 25 states, including the District of Columbia.  These programs include publicly-funded voucher scholarships, privately-funded tax-credit scholarships, and educational savings accounts (ESAs), which allow parents to use a portion of what their states would have spent to educate their children in public schools for private school tuition, tutoring, online courses, and future expenses such as college. Nearly 2.1 million more students are enrolled part- or full-time in online schools. Another 2 million students are educated at home; while nearly 2.3 million students attend public charter schools.

Yet more work needs to be done to fulfill Friedman’s promise.

Only 14 percent of women with college degrees believe higher education is affordable for most people today.  Federal financial aid has done little to contain soaring college costs, and it stifles flexibility because it links dollars to credit hours and seat time.  Encouraging online and competency-based programs would allow students of all ages to progress at their own pace focusing on the knowledge and skills they need. Such programs introduce competition for students and funding, putting powerful pressure on all postsecondary institutions to keep costs low, program quality high, and the degree process streamlined.

Virtually every profession pays employees for performance, but in teaching that’s the exception not the rule. Growing evidence shows that paying teachers for years of service instead of their success at educating students discourages talented individuals from entering and remaining in the profession—especially women who have unlimited career options in the free market.  A diverse education marketplace would increase competition for top teachers and introduce strong incentives for schools to direct resources toward better working conditions and salaries, which now average only 30 percent of total classroom funding. Teachers should be free to perform, and schools should be free to pay them top dollar for top-quality work.

Just as women want greater flexibility and customization for their own lives, they especially want those benefits when it comes to their children’s education. Children have diverse academic abilities, and schooling options should exist that can adapt to them—not the other way around.  Increasingly, mothers know that rigorous standards shouldn’t mean standardized schooling. That helps explain why around seven out of 10 mothers support K-12 parental choice programs. Programs that free parents to choose their children’s schools and education providers are more cost-effective, get better results, and have higher parental satisfaction levels than one-size-fits-all government-run programs. State lawmakers should expand such programs and encourage innovative reforms that get results.

Friedman’s legacy of liberty and free markets has already benefitted women and society to an unprecedented degree. The challenge now is strengthening that legacy for future generations.

Vicki E. Alger, Ph.D., is IWF’s Women for School Choice Project Director and author of “How Educational Freedom Benefits Women” available at iwf.org.  She is also a research fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California, with a forthcoming book on the U.S. Department of Education.