Marshall Fritz, R.I.P.

Remembering one of the most devoted and principled school reformers of all time


Marshall Fritz, the longtime libertarian leader who founded the Advocates for Self-Government and created the world-famous World's Smallest Political Quiz, died November 4th of pancreatic cancer at the age of 65.

I knew Marshall Fritz as the founder of the Alliance for the Separation of School and State. He wisely advised that "Sunday School, Monday School—Neither is the Business of Government." He wrote, "some people think that the American "public school system" is broken so they try to fix it. The truth is that public schooling is not broken. Rather, it is succeeding in its main objective—strengthening government by undermining parents…"

As education reform advocates argued about what counts as markets in education and what are legitimate forms of school choice—from vouchers to tax credits to charter schools—Marshall was never willing to settle for half-measures. As he advised in a 2005 reason piece, "Let a Thousand Choices Bloom," "Start with your own children. Remove them from school-by-government. You'll not be paying twice for education: You'll pay taxes for the state to harm other people's children, but you'll pay only once for education—your children's."

Marshall was quick to point out that of 55 million children, around 14 percent were getting an education without the government—6.5 million children attend private schools and nearly 2 million children are home schooled. Marshall was the lead author of the "Proclamation for the Separation of School and State," which states simply: "I proclaim publicly that I favor ending government involvement in education."

I must admit that I parted ways with Marshall on his strict separation of school and state. I have been willing to see progress in more immediate choices for families—for kids stuck in low-quality government schools whose parents may never shoulder the full responsibility of their children's education.

However, I see Marshall's firm line as a reality check all the time. When private preschools are afraid to speak out against universal government-run proposals because they are afraid of losing the 10 percent carve-out that some of these plans might throw their way; when private tutoring companies lobby for more federal education dollars so that they can have a bigger piece of a taxpayer-funded pie; when charter schools claim they must have equal financing to be successful; in all these cases I hear the voice of Marshall Fritz patiently explaining that government funding through vouchers, tax credits, or charter schools is not true choice. It's just a longer leash.

In June 2002, when the Supreme Court ruled that school vouchers were constitutional, I wrote, "I can't help but think of Marshall Fritz today, and all the others, who fear that this is not a victory for parents and children over government schools, but a victory for the government over private schools."

While I find it difficult to imagine a day where the separation of school and state is more than a proclamation, Marshall's stance has made it easier for me to do my job while also serving as a constant reminder of the eternal vigilance necessary to protect families from the state. Marshall was an eloquent champion who believed and practiced the notion that liberty starts at home.

Lisa Snell is director of education and child welfare at Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes reason online.

Editor's Note: If you would like to see tributes to Marshall and post your own, please go to Marshall's "Bucket List" website.