February 9, 2016 12:28PM

Andrew Coulson’s Legacy

Andrew J. Coulson was my friend and mentor in school choice policy. He was a good, principled, brilliant, and funny man whom I will miss deeply, along with many, many, others. Andrew was so much more than his work, but I’d like to focus here on that legacy he leaves behind for those who never had the pleasure of knowing him personally.

There is no one else beside Andrew Coulson that you must read to discover what reforms we need in education and why they will work. That is not hyperbole. There are many very sharp people who have contributed important thoughts on education reform, but you will get everything essential that you need from reading through Andrew’s collective works. I have a short list of links to material representing Andrew’s core ideas below. In the near future, his final project – a documentary series on the history and future of education – will be released and should be added as mandatory viewing.

All the way through Andrew’s illness, he continued work on his passion; bringing freedom and excellence to education and opportunities to children. I know he has made a huge difference already, but I hope even more people read and learn from Andrew after his passing. If you have even a fleeting interest in education reform, please do yourself a favor and read as much as you can by Andrew Coulson.

I was first introduced to Andrew in graduate school, about twelve years ago. I’d written an article for NRO on vouchers, playing off a West Wing episode to encourage conservatives and Republicans to provoke a wedge-issue fight for targeted vouchers and black voters. Someone working in the choice movement emailed to compliment me on the article, but gently suggested I might be missing some important concerns about school choice policy.

He attached a late draft of a paper written by Andrew for the Mackinac Center called “Forging Consensus.” I read it. And that was it. I was convinced that education tax credits were the best option for remaking our education system into one of freedom and excellence, one where we could provide the best opportunities possible to all children. In terms of practical impact, principle, public opinion, politics and legal restrictions; Andrew made a thoroughly convincing case for consensus on what the goals of school choice proponents should be.

More than a decade later, I’m more convinced than ever that Andrew was correct then and still correct now. His work directly inspired my PhD dissertation, and I ultimately went to work for Andrew at the Cato Institute. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that everything I’ve written on education reform since then has been a recapitulation or an extension of Andrew’s thinking and analysis.

Andrew was a fine thinker and passionate advocate. But, as many have noted, he was also a kind man with a splendid sense of humor and relentless optimism. He remained immovably committed to his principles and the conclusions to which his great mind had led him. But he always engaged with a sense of magnanimity and humor, never bitter or angry. Even when I made a good deal of trouble for him with my lack of these qualities, Andrew stood by me. When he faced difficulties because of his principles, he always stood firm on those as well.

I wish more of his qualities had rubbed off on me along with his ideas. I had a great deal of difficulty maintaining my balance and optimism to continue in what I knew would be an extraordinarily long and difficult battle. Andrew did not, or at least he never let it show or slow him down.

Andrew’s passing is a great personal loss to those of us who knew and worked with him. It’s an even greater loss to our collective movement to expand liberty and opportunity.

But Andrew would never approve of ending on such a gloomy note. So I’ll keep in mind all the wonderful gifts he’s left us – the memories and impact of his friendship and the continuing inspiration and power of his ideas.

Market Education: The Unknown History, Transaction Publishers, January 1999

Forging Consensus, Mackinac Center, April 30, 2004

Expanding Choice through Tax Credits: Q&A with Cato's Andrew Coulson Reason TV, Jan 28, 2011

"Tax Credits Better for Schools Than Vouchers," Philadelphia Inquirer. May 15, 2011.

On the Way to School: Why and How to Make a Market in Education, Freedom and School Choice in American Education. June 2011

Do Vouchers and Tax Credits Increase Private School Regulation?, Working Paper No. 1. October 5, 2010.

Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn, Legal Briefs. August 4, 2010.

Cato Education Market Index Full Technical Report, Policy Analysis No. 585. December 13, 2006.

The Fiscal Impact of a Large-Scale Education Tax Credit Program, Policy Analysis No. 618. July 1, 2008.

State Education Trends, Policy Analysis No. 746. March 18, 2014.

Comparing Public, Private, and Market Schools: The International Evidence, Journal of School Choice. Vol. 3. 2009.