Of all the government undertakings, none has failed so disastrously as public education. The scope, the depth, and the evidence of this failure are observable all around us. To name three of its obvious symptoms: drug addiction among the young (which is an attempt to escape the unbearable state of a mind unable to cope with existence)--functional illiteracy (the inability of the average high-school or college graduate to speak English, i.e., to speak or write coherently)--student violence (which means that students have not learned what savages know to some minimal extent: the impracticality and immorality of resorting to physical force).
In the face of such evidence, one would expect the government's performance in the field of education to be questioned, at the least, [but] the growing failures of the educational establishment are followed by the appropriation of larger and larger sums. There is, however, a practical alternative: tax credits for education.
The essentials of the idea (in my version) are as follows: an individual citizen would be given tax credits for the money he spends on education, whether his own education, his children's, or any person's he wants to put through a bona fide school of his own choice (including primary, secondary, and higher education).
The upper limits of what he may spend on any one person would be equal to what it costs the government to provide a student with a comparable education (if there is a computer big enough to calculate it, including all the costs involved, local, state, and federal, the government loans, scholarships, subsidies, etc.).
If a young person's parents are too poor to pay for his education or to pay income taxes, and if he cannot find a private sponsor to finance him, the public schools would still be available to him, as they are at present--with the likelihood that these schools would be greatly improved by the relief of the pressure of overcrowding, and by the influence of a broad variety of private schools.
I want to stress that I am not an advocate of public (i.e., government-operated) schools, that I am not an advocate of the income tax, and that I am not an advocate of the government's "right" to expropriate a citizen's money or to control his spending through tax incentives. None of these phenomena would exist in a free economy. But we are living in a disastrously mixed economy, which cannot be freed overnight. And in today's context, the above proposal would be a step in the right direction.
Parents would still have to pay for education, but they would have a choice: either to send their children to free public schools and pay their taxes in full--Or to pay tuition to a private school, with money saved from their taxes.
It would give private schools a chance to survive (which they do not have at present). It would bring their tuition fees within the reach of the majority of people (today, only the well-to-do can afford them).
It would break up the government's stranglehold, decentralize education, and open it to competition--as well as to a free marketplace of ideas.
It would eliminate the huge educational bureaucracy of the government (which is now growing with the speed of a terminal cancer) and reduce it to a reasonable size. The amount of money this would save is literally inconceivable to the average citizen.
No private concern can compete with a government institution for any length of time, and the injustice involved is obvious: it is a competition in which one contestant has unlimited funds, part of them taken from the other, and in which one contestant is forced to obey the rules arbitrarily set by the other. If any private schools survive, they will survive in name only (which is the typical policy of a fascist state): they are all but hog-tied by the government already.
Some people would oppose the program on the grounds that it will foster the development of different educational theories and methods in the various private schools. The answer to them is that that precisely is one of the program's goals--that differences, not regimented uniformity, are essential to the progress of a free country--and that equality before the law, not egalitarianism, is one of this country's fundamental principles.
Let us take the educational establishment at their word and hold them to it: that their goal is to provide education, not to control the intellectual life of this country.
This editorial is excerpted by the Ayn Rand Institute from a 1973 essay by novelist/philosopher Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead.