NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Look to Sweden for School Choice

February 2, 2011

In 1993, Sweden introduced a system of school vouchers inspired by the ideas of American economists Milton and Rose Friedman.  Sweden designed its voucher system to follow the Friedmans' advice to keep it universal and simple.  The answer was a system where funding follows the student regardless of their parents' income, says Odd Eiken, former state secretary of schools in Sweden.

  • Under the system, every family has the right to choose a school that's right for their child, and every student brings with him the same amount of per pupil funding as the cost of the public school in his or her home district.
  • If a school chooses to be part of the voucher system, it has to be all-inclusive, provide national standards and have its performance monitored.
  • A school also has no right to charge its students fees beyond the voucher.

In some areas the competition is fierce, with both public and independent schools closing as a result.  The variety of independent schools is large in both ownership and in innovative pedagogy and practice.

Vouchers are not the sole fix for education.  But with real competition, independent schools are still generally performing better academically than public schools, even if the differences probably will decrease as their share increases and failing schools disappear.  More important perhaps, is that all schools -- public and private -- perform better in areas where alternatives are plentiful, says Eiken.

Source:  Odd Eiken, "Sweden Is a Model for American School Choice Options," Washington Examiner, January 27, 2011.

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