Opinion
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To Combat Youth Unemployment, Start With School Choice

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Robert Enlow
President and CEO, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice
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      Robert Enlow

      In January of 2009 Robert Enlow took over the role of President and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, an organization dedicated to promoting universal school choice. Previously he had been the Executive Director of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice since late 2004. He joined the Friedman Foundation when it first opened in 1996, serving as fundraiser, projects coordinator and vice president before being named executive director.

      Under his leadership, the Friedman Foundation has become one of the nation’s leading advocates for school choice, working in dozens of states to advance the issue by disseminating research, sponsoring seminars, undertaking advertising campaigns, organizing community leaders and providing grants.

      He is the Co-editor of the book Liberty and Learning, Milton Friedman’s Voucher Idea at Fifty, author of Grading Vouchers, Ranking America’s School Choice Programs, and co-author of School Choice: A Reform that Works and “Early School Choice,” a chapter in An Education Agenda: Let Parents Choose Their Children’s School. His articles and quotes have appeared in numerous publications including the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Arizona Republic and National Review.

      Prior to joining the Friedman Foundation, he lived and worked in England where he worked as a Deputy Day Center Manager and Social Worker for St. Botolph's Project, an organization providing rehabilitative care and services to homeless men, women and families. While in England, he also served on the School Board of two inner city schools in London, Hillmead Infants and Juniors School, where he chaired the Finance Committee and served on the Building and Curriculum Committees. During his tenure, the success of the schools was nationally recognized in an inspection by Her Majesty's Office of Standards in Education Department (OFSTED).

      From 1990-92, Robert attended Oxford University where he worked on a post-graduate degree in Theology. He received his BA degree from Seattle Pacific University.

      His civic positions include Private Sector Chairman of the Education Task Force for the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that recently awarded him Private Sector Member of the Year. He is also a Board member for School Choice Ohio and Advisory Board Member of Children First: School Choice Trust. He currently lives in Indianapolis and has two children, Jefferson and Charles.

Summer is the time when many students hit the pool or head to the beach for vacation. For others it is a transition from school into the working world.

Recent graduates or those needing money for college often enter the workforce in summer, seeking employment, a job or internship that could launch their career.

Six years after the Great Recession, the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics declared in June that the unemployment rate has dropped to 6.1 percent. But for those who recently left our education system, employment prospects are much dimmer.

Among 18 and 19 year olds, the unemployment rate is 19.3 percent. Among those 20 to 24, the unemployment rate is 10.5 percent. Obviously we aren’t giving students the skills they need to find jobs in a competitive marketplace.

While young people look for jobs, debates rage over Common Core standards and more testing. Teachers unions are battling for more influence. Some legislatures push to expand mandatory schooling into early years.

These deliberations over to improve education for America’s 50.1 million students sometimes appear the same as they were in 1950, 1980 or 2010, but the stakes today are different. The question is whether to expand the role of government in education and spend more money on a system that fails to produce better outcomes, or try something completely different.

If the purpose of education is to create well-educated citizens who are employable in today’s global marketplace, we are doing a miserable job.

If we are to correct the injustice that children have to suffer because of failed government policies then we need to embrace the freedom to choose among education providers allowed to compete. That means school choice.

Monopolies never help consumers. And as Milton Friedman, the father of school choice, recognized so accurately in 2000, “Only a truly competitive educational industry can empower the ultimate consumers of educational services — parents and their children.”

This week celebrations are taking place nationwide and around the world in memory of the late Nobel laureate economist, perhaps the most influential economist of the 20th Century. Even after his passing, his ideas are still have impact on how to improve education.

Indeed, Friedman’s most celebrated education idea – breaking the big-government monopoly with school choice – is not only gaining traction in many countries across the world but is gaining incredible momentum in the United States.

Currently there are 51 private school choice programs in 24 states and Washington, DC is enabling more than 300,000 students to transfer to a private school of their parents’ choice. The majority of those programs have been embraced by state lawmakers in the past four years.

A new poll commissioned this spring by the Friedman Foundation found increasing support for school choice. More than six in 10 Americans (63 percent) support vouchers compared with 33 percent opposed, according to the national poll of 1,007 adults across the country.

That is a significant increase from the same “Schooling in America Survey” conducted in 2012, which found 56 percent supported vouchers. In this spring’s poll, 69 percent of parents of school-age children supported vouchers. In 2012, support among these parents was 59 percent.

The greatest support for school vouchers was among African Americans (74 percent), Hispanics (72 percent), and young adults (69 percent). Perhaps that’s because minorities and young people have the toughest time in today’s economy getting good jobs – and they recognize the importance of a quality education.