Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a compelling case for school choice Tuesday at The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice dinner honoring Milton Friedman’s 100th birthday.
Friedman, who died in 2006, was universally known as one of the most influential economists of the 20th century. His free-market philosophy had a strong influence on the policies of world leaders like President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and helped convince leaders of many developing nations to reform their economic strategies.
Less known is the fact that Friedman was the father of the American school choice movement, advocating for school vouchers and the elimination of government school district boundaries as early as the 1960s.
Rice, the keynote speaker at the birthday celebration, picked up Friedman’s call to liberate students from failing schools and allow them to use government education dollars to enroll in the public, private or parochial schools that best fit their needs.
She echoed Friedman’s belief that school choice is most important for children from lower income families, who are frequently forced to attend failing schools in dangerous urban neighborhoods. She said poor kids should have the same access to quality schools as children from more affluent families.
“School choice is indeed a matter of civil rights,” Rice told her audience.
Rice shared the story of her grandfather finding a way to attend college in the segregated south, and how higher education has been a tradition in her family ever since. She described education as a liberating tool in a society where circumstances of birth should never block opportunities for advancement.
“It doesn’t matter where you came from, it matters where you’re going,” Rice said.
Rice also continued her thinly-veiled criticism of the changing landscape of political discourse, attributable to President Obama’s election year class warfare rhetoric. Paying homage to Friedman’s principles, Rice said, “Never in the American narrative has it been, ‘I am doing poorly because you are doing well.’”
She said only “leadership” – presumably from the White House – could reverse that trend. Rice did not address rumors about the possibility of her accepting the GOP vice presidential nomination.
As part of Tuesday’s celebration, the Friedman Foundation shared clips from a groundbreaking PBS television series from the 1960s, “Free to Choose,” in which Friedman discusses his views on education and other topics.
All of the “Free to Choose” videos can be seen here.