NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

School Choice Takes Hold in Sweden

April 2, 2003

School choice has come to Sweden in a big way over the past 10 years, confounding widespread perceptions of the Swedes as statists and providing inspiration for supporters of market-based education reform in the United States.

As a result of a top-to-bottom education reform launched in 1991-92, virtually anyone can start a school in Sweden and receive public funding. Families are free to choose whatever state-subsidized school they prefer for their children, including those run by churches.

Among the positive outcomes from Sweden's shift to free educational choice:

  • The number of independent schools has increased fivefold.
  • Attendance in independent schools has quadrupled.
  • Student performance in Sweden's government-run schools has increased, the apparent result of competition from a much-increased supply of schools.
  • Most of the independent schools are run by for-profit educational management companies, with no negative effect on the quality of education.
  • Free choice under a voucher-style approach has not led to advantages for the elite rich -- in fact, poorer Swedes choose independent schools at higher rates than do affluent families.

While there are differences of opinion within the teaching profession, Swedish teachers' unions have not opposed school choice. Surveys show teachers prefer working in the independent schools because they find the climate for teaching better there.

Source: Robert Holland, "Voucher Lessons From Sweden: Socialist embrace of free market brings positive outcomes," School Reform News, March 2003, Heartland Institute; based on Mikael Sandstrom and Fredrik Bergstrom, "School Choice Works! The Case of Sweden," December 1, 2002, Milton & Rose D. Friedman Foundation.


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