Independent Women’s Forum

July 31, 2014 • 10:30 a.m. EDT
Press Call Transcript

Milton Friedman Legacy Day: How Educational Freedom Benefits Women and Girls


Sabrina Schaeffer • Executive Director, Independent Women's Forum
Vicki Alger, Ph.D. • Senior Fellow in Education, Independent Women's Forum

Sabrina Schaeffer • Executive Director, Independent Women's Forum

My name is Sabrina Schaeffer. I’m the Executive Director of the Independent Women’s Forum. I want to thank you again for joining IWF this morning to help honor Milton Friedman’s legacy by acknowledging the successes in educational freedom, and also to voice our concerns about the limits of school choice today.

As a reminder, this information and our analysis will be available after this call on the IWF homepage,

The Independent Women's Forum is a non-partisan, 501(c)(3) research and educational institution dedicated to expanding the conservative coalition, both by increasing the number of women who understand and value the benefits of limited government, personal liberty, and free markets, and by countering those who seek to expand government in the name of protecting women. 

For too long America has suffered from the lack of an education marketplace. A rigid public school system, controlled by America’s teachers unions, has made it difficult to create new opportunities that better suit individual and family needs.

Little by little this is beginning to change, and today a new educational paradigm benefits women and society at large. Thanks to education tax credits, vouchers, charters, and education savings accounts new markets and opportunities in education are slowly developing at the K-12 level, and parents increasingly have more choice in where to send their children to school.

Similarly an expanding marketplace helps women who are now better able to pursue advanced education, by making use of flexible work schedules, pursuing at-home learning options and other continuing education opportunities to help better themselves.

Of course it’s not only as students that women are benefiting. As educators, women win in a more diversified education marketplace, where there are new opportunities to use their skills and earn a living with schedules, locations, and work environments that are best suited to them.

At IWF we know that the feminization of poverty is a real problem. And it’s true that financial hardships plague many of America’s working women and their families, especially unmarried women. But too often progressives perpetuate the myth that America is inherently unfair to women and girls and encourage even greater dependence on the state. And their solutions are just more of the same government-centered policies that put Washington bureaucrats in control rather than individuals.

That’s why on Friedman Legacy Day we urge lawmakers to consider how smart education policy that enables freedom of choice can truly help women, without turning them into a victim class. IWF hopes lawmakers at the state level, where so many education decisions are made, to consider how women would benefit from the creation of a real market in education and give women and girls the freedom of choice that will ultimately generate greater economic opportunity, success, and happiness.

And we urge President Obama and Democrats in Congress to stop criminalizing for-profit colleges, which may not be perfect, but provide women an opportunity to improve their circumstances. On Friedman Legacy Day we should dial down the hysterics around for-profit schools and acknowledge that they really are largely equivalent in terms of cost and graduation rates to the rest of higher education. And, they provide access to education for many, especially women, who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity.

Certainly all of this is just the tip of the iceberg. We are a long way away from truly fulfilling Milton Friedman’s promise of having a true marketplace in education, where school choice bills are not fought tooth and nail in court, where all parents rich and poor can send their children to a school that is safe, where school systems don’t abuse taxpayer dollars and schools are more affordable, where government is not at war with for-profit education institutions, and where both men and women have more choice and freedom over how and what they learn.

The default position in America continues to have government in the drivers seat when it comes to finding solutions to our education challenges. But the reality is that most government programs and policies – no matter how well-intentioned – limit women and girl’s freedom to learn, teach, and have the greatest opportunity for success. That’s why policymakers across the country should embrace Friedman’s advice and focus on returning control over resources to education consumers.

We all want to solve the real problem of education in our country and make sure more girls and boys – women and men – have the opportunity to succeed. The Independent Women’s Forum places a high value on educational freedom because no issue is more personal than a child’s education and perhaps no issue can better help women and their families move up the economic ladder.

I will now turn the conversation to Vicki Alger, Senior Fellow in Education, at the Independent Women’s Forum.


Vicki Alger, Ph.D. • Senior Fellow in Education, Independent Women's Forum

Thank you, Sabrina, and thank you to the participants joining us.

Today marks what would have been Milton Friedman’s 102nd birthday. He was:

  • a Nobel Prize-winning economist
  • integral to ending the draft and replacing it with an all-volunteer military
  • and key advisor to President Ronald Reagan

But 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 children’s schools.

Friedman made this argument nearly 60 years ago in his 1955 article “the role of Government in education,” which was later included in his 1962 book Capitalism and Freedom. Just because we publicly fund schools through government, that doesn’t mean we should hand control over schools to government.

 In other words, parents, not politicians, should decide what schools or other educational settings are best for their children.

Consider: It makes little sense that 18-year-olds can use public funds to attend the colleges and universities of their choice, but once those young people become parents they cannot similarly use public funds to send their own children to the schools of their choice.

Friedman agreed, and that is why back in 1955—25 years before the creation of the U.S. Department of Education—he advocated voucher scholarships. Similar to college Pell Grants, K-12 vouchers are publicly-funded scholarships that help parents pay for private school tuition.

Today, K-12 education options have extended way beyond vouchers, as we’ll discuss in a few moments.

But as we grow accustomed to an ever-increasing array of options our everyday lives—from coffee drinks to on-demand entertainment to how we get our news—we become less tolerant of government micromanaging our options concerning our and our children’s  education.

So let’s turn now to how women are benefiting from educational choice as students themselves, as teachers, and as parents.

Fortunately, today a growing education marketplace is benefiting women and society.  But more work needs to be done to fulfill Friedman’s promise.

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. 

Currently, female undergraduate enrollment outpaces that of their male counterparts by a ratio of nearly one-and-a-half to 1.

Since the late 1970s, the share of women with college degrees has skyrocketed, from just 11 percent in 1970 to 38 percent today. 

Today,  a record proportion of American men and women, 30 percent each, hold college or advanced degrees, and over the next decade women are projected to earn a majority of bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. 

Women are particularly benefiting from the new educational options for adults.

For example, women are more likely than men to be enrolled in online degree programs offering non-traditional class schedules.  These new options are particularly important for women, who are typically responsible for the care of young children and other relatives, which can make it difficult to participate in more traditional schooling programs.

Some believe that women are discouraged from pursuing education in disciplines that have been traditionally dominated by men. 

The anonymity of online courses may help minimize the impact of such stereotypes and encourage women to try new subjects.  Online courses also erase safety concerns which may impede some women in crime-ridden areas from continuing in school. 

Yet, 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.

Women are also benefiting from educational freedom as teachers, with new opportunities to use their skills and earn a living with schedules and work environments that are suited to them. 

Women represent close to three-fourths of all elementary and secondary school full-time teachers in the United States. One of the most attractive features of this profession is having a work schedule that allows time to raise a family and earn a living.

Teachers note that one of the best aspects of their jobs is the freedom to influence the mission and curriculum at their schools to better help students reach their full academic potential.

The growing variety of schools, including public charter, virtual, and blended online/traditional schools, helps make the teaching profession more attractive to a greater number of high-quality prospective teachers by offering even more flexible schedules, challenging classes, and more competitive compensation packages.

A thriving education marketplace means more options for students as well as teachers. Schools offering different curricula, philosophies, and schedules increase the likelihood of the best possible fit between them and teachers, which helps improve job satisfaction and teaching performance.

Effective teachers are the key factor for students’ academic success, increasing student learning by more than one and a half years in a single school year. Effective teachers can also improve their students’ lifetime earnings by more than $400,000.

A greater variety of schools would increase competition for top teachers and introduce strong incentives for schools to direct resources toward better salaries and rigorous professional development. 

Yet, 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—lowering the quality of the teaching workforce overall.

Virtually every other profession pays employees for performance.  Students in countries where teachers are paid based on performance also score higher on international assessments.

Teachers should be free to choose whether they prefer to be paid according to traditional salary schedules or according to performance-based plans.  Consider: Average public school per-pupil funding in the United States exceeds $12,000 and the typical classroom has 16 students. That amounts to approximately $192,000 per classroom. However, teacher salaries average around just 30 percent of that amount at $56,400. If teachers’ salaries were just 50 percent of the total classroom funds received, their average salaries would be $96,000. Teachers should be free to perform, and schools should be free to pay them top dollar for top-quality work.

Educational freedom also benefits women as parents.

More parents than ever before are 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 51 parental choice programs in 25 states, including the District of Columbia. These programs include:

  • Publicly-funded voucher scholarships—23 programs in 13 states and DC
  • Privately-funded tax-credit scholarships—18 programs in 15 states
  • 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—2 programs in 2 states AZ and FL
  • 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 state lawmakers struggle to implement and expand parental choice programs. Too many have geographical and student eligibility limitations. Even programs that are expanding by leaps-and-bounds are being challenged at the national level by the Obama administration.

Research shows that children who participate in these programs do better academically in their chosen schools, and they have higher high school graduation, college attendance, and college completion rates. Parental choice programs are also cost-effective.

In addition, research also consistently documents strong support for parental choice in education. Importantly, a majority of mothers support vouchers, 71 percent; tax-credit scholarships, 69 percent; and ESAs, 65 percent—which is striking since these programs have only been around since 2011.

The bottom line is this: do we want the most innovative and effective education system possible?

Then we need to be expanding the freedom to choose the best education options for ourselves and our children.

If anyone would like to follow up with IWF after our call, please contact IWF communication director Victoria Coley at [email protected]

We’ll now open it up for your questions.