Douglas County Colorado Voters Choose School Choice

Last night in a highly contested election, the four school choice candidates running to return to or join Colorado’s Douglas County School Board won.

Although some headlines have focused on Jeb Bush’s, a Koch-funded nonprofit’s, and the teachers unions’ involvement in the race, it was the late Milton Friedman that prompted board members to dramatically reform their K–12 education system, including adopting the country’s first district-led voucher program.

“Milton Friedman was definitely an inspiration for me and for our entire board, including the candidates who will be joining the board,” John Carson, president of the Douglas County School Board, said. “He really was the first leading thinker who said we can improve public education by bringing market forces into the equation. Milton Friedman set the path on how we can effectively reform education and put the interests of parents and students first.”

Nate and Diana Oakley
Dr. Friedman’s influence can be seen in the fact that DougCo’s program is the nation’s only universal voucher plan, allowing all families to participate—families like Nate and Diana Oakley pictured above.

“We believe in public education, but we believe in publicly-funded education,” Carson added. “There’s no reason government has to be the monopoly in providing that education.”

Those comments echo what Carson told our foundation earlier this year:

The Choice Scholarship Program was a natural outgrowth of the Douglas County Board of Education’s commitment to universal choice in public education. The Board is unanimous in its view that more choice and competition in public education improve quality and ensure that the unique learning needs of students are met. The Board is committed to providing a wide range of choices for parents and students, including traditional neighborhood schools, charter schools, online schools, and private schools—all participating in district programming by offering a quality publicly funded education.

Dr. Friedman, like Carson, suggested government need only provide the (taxpayer) funding to families to receive an education; it doesn’t need to run all the schools receiving that funding. What matters most are the positive “neighborhood effects” a good education, public or private, can provide, which DougCo’s superintendent, Elizabeth Celania-Fagen, emphasized in 2012:

But if a parent truly believes—and they know their children well—if they truly believe that a school outside of my district is going to be the school that offers that child the opportunity to maximize their full potential, I don’t want to be in the way of that. I actually want to help them get there.

It seems Douglas County voters want them to as well. Although DougCo’s voucher program is on hold because of pending lawsuits, the district still can be a symbol for future reform-minded school districts the same way Wisconsin inspired other state legislatures with its creation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program in 1990. It doesn’t look as if the number of states adopting school choice is subsiding anytime soon. With last night’s outcome in Douglas County, perhaps more school districts soon could be added to that list.