The Foundry (Heritage Foundation), September 15, 2009
In socialist Sweden, universal school choice allows every parent to choose the best school for their child. The voucher program, which has been in effect since 1992 and was created to tackle the kind of problems plaguing the U.S. educational system, provides families with the opportunity to send their child to any type of school they like – public, private, religious, or even for-profit. Stuart Butler, Heritage Vice President of domestic policy studies, explains in Washington Times:
These independent schools, like the public schools, get a voucher payment for each child. They compete vigorously with one other because the money follows the child to the school of his or her choice. Schools must satisfy their customers … or lose them.
While schools must adhere to the Swedish national curriculum and testing, they are free to design their own programs and implement any teaching style they see fit. This arrangement has led to high levels of satisfaction among parents as well as a thriving private school market:
The growth of the competing private sector has been dramatic. Before the voucher program, less than 1 percent of Swedish children attended private schools. Now it is 10 percent. At the senior high school level, it is 20 percent. About one in five Swedish schools is now private, and roughly 10 percent of the private schools are church-based.
Swedes have somehow managed to do what the United States has been unable to do – placate the teachers unions, which vociferously oppose school choice. But while socialist Sweden has provided families with the opportunity to receive the best education possible for their children, lawmakers here at home shamefully deny such opportunity to American children. Butler concludes:
But it is ironic - and embarrassing - that if the 216 low-income D.C. children now effectively being barred from going to private school lived in socialist Sweden, they would be able to exercise choice in a free-market school system.
Lance Izumi of the Pacific Research Institute also highlights some of the logistics of the Swedish voucher system in a video op-ed in the New York Times. “We implemented competition in education…anybody can use their voucher to choose any school,” states Peter Fyles, CEO of Internationella Engelska school.
The universal school voucher system has worked beautifully in Sweden, providing families with choice and children with educational opportunity. If President Obama and Education Secretary Duncan want to stay true to their promise to do “what works” in education, Sweden certainly provides an effective template.