In Honor of Ayn Rand’s Long Legacy: Rand on Tax Credits for Education

In honor of Rand-O-Rama (The Long Shelf Life of Ayn Rand’s Legacy) and Reason’s week-long tribute to Ayn Rand, I acknowledge that she was an early supporter of tax credits for education choice which has grown up into a robust school choice option for families in the United States. In a 1973 essay she wrote:

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.

Rand would be pleased because during the 2008-09 school year, an estimated 109,604 students benefited from seven scholarship tax credit programs operating in six states. In 2008, scholarship granting organizations received approximately $218 million in donations from generous companies and families. Scholarship tax credit programs provide smart incentives for individuals and businesses to get involved in education, ensuring that children are able to attend the schools that are right for them.

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