Milton Friedman honored, as Oklahoma’s special needs children are ‘Free to Choose’

OKLAHOMA CITY — July 31 was a hot day in Oklahoma City, but a gathering of children, parents and education found a way to cool off.

Advocates of school choice for the Sooner State chilled out with ice cream and cordial conversation about the Lindsey Nicole Henry Scholarship program benefitting special needs children in Oklahoma during a gathering at a “think tank” advancing education reforms.

The event coincided with the 101st birthday of the late Dr. Milton Friedman, perhaps the leading advocate of parental choice in education among Twentieth Century economists and a major influence on the late President Ronald Reagan and other U.S. leaders.

Attendees included children, and families, benefitting from the Henry Scholarships, a program named for the infant daughter of Brad and Kim Henry, the state’s former first family.

Lindsey passed away years ago at the age of seven months, stricken by a rare neuromuscular disease. As governor, in 2010, Gov. 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. Henry, a Democrat, attended the reception, as did state Rep. Jason Nelson, R-Oklahoma City, author of the historic legislation. After years of opposition, the Henry Scholarships passed with strong bipartisan support.

Others at the OCPA event included state Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid, co-sponsor of the Henry Scholarships, and state Reps. Mark McCullough, R-Broken Arrow, Tom Newell, R-Seminole, and Harold Wright, R-Weatherford.

Hosting the event at the headquarters of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) were the organization’s vice president Brian Bush, development director Karma Robinson and other members of the OCPA staff, including fiscal policy analyst Jonathan Small.

Former U.S. Attorney Bill Price, chairman of Oklahoma School Choice Coalition, also participated, greeting Gov. Henry upon his arrival.

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, reflected on the event in an interview. He 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. (A sketch of Friedman’s impact, from New Mexico Watchdog’s Rob Nikolewski, was posted yesterday.

After the Oklahoma event remembering Friedman, Dutcher concluded, “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.”

In an interview, Price described his delight at the progress made for school choice in the last decade in Oklahoma.

When asked whether or not school choice would have progressed as far as has without the work of Dr. 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.”

He noted at Chile’s school choice experiments began during Friedman’s career.

The Henry Scholarships have been the subject of litigation, including a case in which the Union and Jenkis 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 somuch 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.”

You may contact Patrick B. McGuigan at and follow us on Twitter: @capitolbeatok.