By Patrick B. McGuigan | Oklahoma Watchdog
OKLAHOMA CITY — Advocates of school choice for the Sooner State chilled out Wednesday with ice cream and cordial conversation about the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship program benefitting special needs children in Oklahoma.
A gathering at a “think tank” advancing education reforms, the event coincided with the 101st birthday of the late Milton Friedman, perhaps the leading advocate of parental choice in education among 20th century economists and a major influence on President Ronald Reagan and other U.S. leaders.
Attendees at Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs included children, and families benefitting from the Henry Scholarships, a program named for the infant daughter of Brad and Kim Henry, the state’s first family from 2003 to 2011.
Lindsey died years ago at 7 months, stricken by a rare neuromuscular disease. As governor, in 2010, Gov. Brad Henry signed legislation creating the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship Program to benefit children with special needs. They now may attend any public or private school that meets their needs and basic educational benchmarks.
Gov. Brad Henry, a Democrat, attended the reception, as did state Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, author of the historic legislation. After years of opposition, in the end the Henry Scholarships passed with strong bipartisan support.
At the center of much attention at the gathering were children who have accessed the scholarship program, including Chloe, a special needs child, there with her parents and members of their family.
Brandon Dutcher, OCPA policy vice president, said, “Milton Friedman famously said there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but he never said anything about free ice cream. OCPA was delighted to host an ice-cream social for the families benefiting from the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship program and the many policymakers and supporters who helped make the program a reality.”
OCPA has sponsored annual events remembering and honoring Friedman over the past years. Friedman was well-known for his book and television series, “Free to Choose.” He made economics, “the dismal science,” accessible to millions of people, in part through quips such as this: “Concentrated power is not rendered harmless by the good intentions of those who create it.” And, “Governments never learn. Only people learn.”
He was acclaimed both by conservatives and libertarians, who applauded his emphasis on personal freedom.
After the Oklahoma event remembering Friedman, Dutcher said, “Friedman understood that just because the government provides goods and services doesn’t mean the government has to produce all of them. There are now more than a quarter-million American children now utilizing voucher and tax-credit programs. And though we still have a long way to go, the momentum is clearly on the side of those who embrace Friedman’s vision of educational freedom.”
School Choice Coalition Chairman Bill Price described his delight at the progress made for school choice in the past decade in Oklahoma.
When asked whether school choice would have progressed as far as has without the work of Friedman and his wife, Rose, Price reflected, “That is a great question. Probably, yes, because school choice is so compelling and so widespread that many in our country would have eventually noticed we weren’t following the lead of other nations in this area. However, without his powerful influence, I think progress in America would have come much later than it did.”
The Henry Scholarships have been the subject of litigation, including a case in which the Union and Jenks public school districts sued parents accessing the program for their children. The state Supreme Court tossed out the suit against the parents of special-needs children, but debate over the program’s legality have continued.
Price said, “The victory in the court case was incredibly important. My hunch is that it delays any problems we might have for at least a couple of years. This has advanced so much in recent years. Now more than half the states have precedents or laws supporting choice in education.
“This is not about religion, it’s about giving people a choice of where to go to school, and competition within and among schools, and competitiveness for our country.”
Contact Patrick B. McGuigan at [email protected] and follow us on Twitter @capitolbeatok