School Choice More Popular Than Ever—Thanks to Libertarians

Take that, Paul Krugman.


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A recent New York Times piece heralding the arrival of the libertarian moment has triggered a backlash—well documented by Reason writers here and here—from some noted anti-libertarians determined to rain on our freedom-loving parade. The most predictably awful response came from Paul Krugman, who went full Krugman and declared that libertarianism is an answer to "problems we don't have." 

Nobody paying even cursory attention to the news could actually believe that, but in case you've been living under a rock, Reason's J.D. Tuccille recently listed five policy areas where libertarianism is making people's lives better.

I'd like to suggest another: education. School choice—a concept popularized by libertarians like Milton Friedman—is liberating students from the oppressive failures of traditional public schools by empowering parents to get their kids into classrooms with teachers who actually care. To create innovative learning environments, entrepreneurs need room to breathe, and school choice gives them just that. Some charter schools may fail, but taken as a whole, the U.S.'s limited experiment in unshackling its classrooms is a success worthy of celebration.

Want evidence that the libertarian movement is here? The libertarian approach to education is more popular than ever. Even Democrats—once ironclad allies of notoriously freedom-hostile teachers unions—are increasingly on board with liberty-friendly reforms. (Union bosses, having embraced some of the angriest and ugliest rhetoric imaginable, have no one to blame but themselves.) In the recent Vergara v. California decision, for instance, the Supreme Court agreed with the plaintiffs that California's unconstitutionally broad protections for teachers were "handcuffing" schools. Arne Duncan, President Obama's Education Secretary, released a statement in support of the ruling.

Libertarian-leaning Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), a likely presidential contender, has made school choice a paramount issue—and one he uses to chart new territory among minority communities that have been skeptical of the limited government message in the past but are nevertheless excited about school choice. Those who take the opposite view, that inner city students should be condemned to languish in failing public schools, are increasingly outside the mainstream.

The horizon isn't entirely bright for libertarian education reformers, given the threats of increased centralization and nationalization posed by the Common Core curriculum. But even on that front, a weird mix of people with almost nothing in common other than a basically libertarian skepticism of standardization seem to be winning the fight.

Take that, Krugman.

More from Reason on education reform here.