“The only purpose of education is to teach a student how to live his life—by developing his mind and equipping him to deal with reality. The training he needs is theoretical, i.e., conceptual. He has to be taught to think, to understand, to integrate, to prove. He has to be taught the essentials of the knowledge discovered in the past—and he has to be equipped to acquire further knowledge by his own effort.” — AYN RAND, “The Comprachicos,” Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution
Under capitalism, education is the means of providing a child with the knowledge they require to become an independent, self-sustaining, rational adult.
“A tax-supported, compulsory educational system is the complete model of the totalitarian state…The most vindictive resentment may be expected from the pedagogic profession for any suggestion that they should be dislodged from their dictatorial position; it will be expressed mainly in epithets, such as ‘reactionary,’ at the mildest. Nevertheless, the question to put to any teacher moved to such indignation is: Do you think nobody would willingly entrust his children to you to pay you for teaching them? Why do you have to extort your fees and collect your pupils by compulsion?” — Isabel Patterson, The God of the Machine
There is no such thing as a ‘right to free education,’ since such a ‘right’ makes slaves of those who are physically forced to provide or pay for someone else’s so-called right.
Anything of value is never free but must be paid for by someone. The state produces nothing; but obtains its funds by force, i.e., taxation. When one recommends the “state funding of education to preserve freedom,” one is asking the state to violate freedom to preserve freedom.
What the advocates of “free” education espouse is not leaving individuals free to pay for their education, or free to pay for the education of another, or free to decide on the content of that education. Rather, they advocate the robbing of one to pay for the unearned benefit (“schooling”) of another. The proper name for such a program is not “free education” but legalized theft.
The issue here is whether one *voluntarily* pays for the education of oneself (or others) as with private schools; or if one is *forced* to pay for the education of oneself (or others) at the point of a gun.
Government is an agent with a monopoly on the legal use of force; force and mind are opposites; to impose the will of public officials upon its citizens, is to render its citizens in principle slaves.
Contrary to the doctrines of collectivism, the mind of a child — or an adult — does not belong to the state: each human being is an end to oneself. If children learn by example, is there any doubt to what kind of example “public-free” schooling is teaching? The truth is the price of government control of education is far too high a price to pay: political freedom. Government schools should not be ‘saved’ or ‘reformed’ but abolished, as they are a violation of the rights of those who are forced to pay for them and a violation of the rights of those who are forced to stay in them.
“Man’s mind is his basic means of survival—and of self-protection. Reason is the most selfish human faculty: it has to be used in and by a man’s own mind, and its product —truth—makes him inflexible, intransigent, impervious to the power of any pack or any ruler. Deprived of the ability to reason, man becomes a docile, pliant, impotent chunk of clay, to be shaped into any subhuman form and used for any purpose by anyone who wants to bother.” — AYN RAND, “The Comprachicos,” Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution
Under capitalism, the indoctrination of the young by government officials is illegal. Capitalism supports freedom in education as opposed to the tax-funded education paid for and run by the state.
Under capitalism, education, like food, computers, and medicine, is taken on as a private profit-making enterprise, not because education is unimportant, but because it is too important to be controlled by the state. Capitalism upholds the separation of education and state, just like the separation of religion and state (and for the same reasons).
Under capitalism, a child’s education is paid for by their guardians (parents), or by voluntary donations by private individuals or groups of private individuals, e.g., family members, church groups and non-religious groups, private scholarships (either merit or need-based), or by individuals donating their time to teach others, etc.
As for those who cannot afford to pay for their education they can resort to private loans, private charity (which can be promoted by the use of tax credits for education.), etc. Under capitalism, since there would be no public schools, more private schools would appear, which would lead to more competition and innovation to decrease in the cost of education. Observe that as the government has increased its stranglehold on college education, the price has increased as the quality has plummeted.
State schools are run politically, as opposed to economically, leading to financial-funding and intellectual-content ramifications.
From a financial perspective, the difference is that government schools can dip their hands into the public treasury to fund their efforts — private schools cannot. If a parent pulls their child out of a government school and puts them in a private school, the government school still gets to keep their tax money (an interim solution for the problem of a parent paying twice are tax credits for education).
Under capitalism, a private school needs to provide a given level of service lest it loses customers (students) to schools who offer a better value for the money. If a parent does not approve of a private school, they can remove their children and their money from it, taking both elsewhere.
No such option exists in societies with tax-payer supported schools: whether parents send their children to government schools or not, and whether they approve of the ideas taught in those schools or not, they must still pay for the schools through compulsory taxation. This added burden often makes it impossible for many parents even to afford to send their children to private schools.
Under capitalism, a private school has an incentive to provide a satisfactory level of service *as judged by the parents*; because, if the private school does not, the parents can take their child out of the school, and with the child, the money used to pay for that education. Government schools face the opposite incentive: the worse they get, the more money they receive. Witness the skyrocketing costs of a college education as the government subsidizes them (with the bulk of the cost increase to pay for increasing bureaucratic and non-educational expenses).
Even worse, from an intellectual perspective, having government fund schools means the government control’s pedagogy and content. If any government is allowed to gain financial control of education, then it will take over the content of that education — the realm of ideas – to ensure its money is spent correctly. This is because the wealth taxed from citizens is not limitless and it must be allocated somehow. It is through the allocation of funds that the government controls content, i.e., “We do not like your content, you will not get any funding from us.”
The fundamental lesson of state education is not intellectual and material independence, but obedience to and dependence on the state. Such is the death of a free society. Under capitalism, there is a separation of education and state for the same reasons as there is a separation of religion and state: the government should not dictate the content of an individuals belief.
“The indoctrination of children with a mob spirit—under the category of ‘social adjustment’—is conducted openly and explicitly. The supremacy of the pack is drilled, pounded and forced into the student’s mind by every means available to the comprachicos of the classroom, including the contemptible policy of grading the students on their social adaptability (under various titles). No better method than this type of grading could be devised to destroy a child’s individuality and turn him into a stale little conformist, to stunt his unformed sense of personal identity and make him blend into an anonymous mob, to penalize the best, the most intelligent and honest children in the class, and to reward the worst, the dull, the lethargic, the dishonest.” — AYN RAND, “The Comprachicos,” Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution
The goal of education under capitalism is independence; under state education dependence (or the euphemism called “socialization.”)
The basis of being “social” (interacting peacefully with other individuals for mutual benefit) is the virtue of rational thinking which allows one to communicate and trade values (both material and spiritual) with others. The alternative is the anti-social means of the initiation of physical force, i.e., threatening violence, i.e., fraud.
Rational, independent thinking by one’s standards is what public schools seek to undermine and destroy, to replace with unquestioning, altruistic (self-sacrificial) obedience to the state.
The government has been so successful in this endeavor, that most people cannot even imagine the possibility of a society where state education does not exist. Where in the 19th century America, parents had to be forced with bayonets to turn their children over to be indoctrinated into the concentration camps for the young — government schools — a century later, many parents voluntarily hand their child over, and many go so far as to demand that the state take them! State-controlled “free” education has achieved the goal implicit in its premises: it has turned a potential free-thinking child that will strive for freedom and independence, into an adult incapable of abstract reasoning, that demands to be taken over as a dependent of the state.
Given the terrible record of “public education,” it is dubious whether any rational individual would voluntarily pay for it if it were not “free.” Of all the government interventions into people’s lives, there is no greater travesty than the spectacle of public education: drug addiction of minors; student crime and violence; functional illiteracy, and the inability to think in principle. These are the results of inserting the power of destruction (to be applied towards brutes and criminals) to an act of production — education.
“The middle class has created an antidote which is perhaps the most hopeful movement of recent years: the spontaneous, unorganized, grass-roots revival of the Montessori system of education—a system aimed at the development of a child’s cognitive, i.e., rational, faculty.” — AYN RAND, “Don’t Let It Go,” Philosophy: Who Needs It
a. Tax Credits for Education. In the short-term, the political solution is tax credits for education, which will allow people who pay for state/local schools through their federal/state/local taxes a tax credit which can be used to pay for the private (or state) school of their choice, or the tax credit can also be used to cover the cost of homeschooling, etc. Individuals, or businesses, can also pay for someone else’s education, and receive a tax credit. Tax credits for education will transfer financial control from bureaucrats back to individuals, forcing state schools to compete in the market for dollars — just like private schools do. Eventually, without state grants and subsidies — and no students — state schools will close down and be replaced with private schools.
Writing on the issue in her essay “Tax Credits for Education”, Ayn Rand made the following proposal:
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. 
b. The separation of education and state. Shut down all state education bureaucracies. Remove the control of education from the hands of the central government bureaucracies which are socially and economically unaccountable to the results of their policies. So, one important step is to shut down any government education agency at the federal level (i.e., the so-called “Department of Education.”)