Are Any of Them Libertarian?

It’s back to school time.

Time then to answer an important question. Vouchers, charter schools, education saving accounts, tuition tax deductions, and tuition tax credits: Are any of them libertarian?

Vouchers are continually touted by some libertarians as a way for parents to send children to the school of their choice instead of a dangerous and destructive public school. Government at some level provides a voucher worth a certain amount that parents can use to pay all or part of their child’s tuition at a private school. The school would then redeem the voucher for payment from the government that issued it.

Vouchers are certainly not libertarian. The government forcibly takes money from people through compulsory taxation and uses it to pay for the education of other people’s children. Vouchers are welfare just like food stamps. Giving one group of Americans the choice of where to spend other Americans’ money to educate their children is immoral and unjust. If vouchers were used for anything but education, they would be denounced as an income-transfer program and a subsidy to private industry. Once government vouchers for education are deemed to be acceptable, no reasonable or logical argument can be made against the government’s providing vouchers for other services.

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Charter schools are also pushed by some libertarians. These are publicly funded, but privately managed, schools established by teachers, parents, or community groups under the terms of a contract or charter with a state or local authority. Charter operators may include local school districts, universities, non-profit corporations, or for-profit corporations. Charter school laws exist in 43 states and the District of Columbia. According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools: “There are now more than 6,800 charter public schools enrolling an estimated 2.9 million students throughout the country.” Charter schools are subject to fewer rules and regulations than traditional Liberalism Ludwig von Mises Best Price: $4.89 Buy New $79.93 (as of 11:40 EST - Details) public schools when it comes to staffing, curriculum, and instruction. But like public schools, education at charter schools is provided at no charge.

Charter schools are certainly not libertarian. Like traditional public schooling or vouchers, the government forcibly takes money from people through compulsory taxation and uses it to pay for the education of other people’s children. Charter schools can also receive federal funding. The fact that a charter school can receive private grants and donations does not make it a private school. And of course, even when truly private schools receive government funds there are always strings attached. Charter schools must still adhere to all state and federal health, safety, and civil rights laws, as well as business regulations. None of this means that charter schools don’t do a better job of educating children than traditional public schools. They may or they may not. But providing students a better education doesn’t make charter schools libertarian.

Education saving accounts like a Coverdell or 529 plan allow parents or others to deposit money into an account for a child’s future qualified education expenses. Proceeds can be withdrawn tax-free for qualified education expenses at a qualified institution. Distributions not used in this manner are subject to federal income tax and an early-withdrawal penalty on the gain, but not on the deposits since they are contributed on an after-tax basis. Although money deposited into an education saving account is not deductible on one’s federal income tax, many states do provide a state income tax deduction for all or part of the donor contributions.

Education saving accounts are libertarian, but not because they are related to education. Money withdrawn from an education savings account and spent on a child’s education is entirely private money since no government money (i.e., taxpayer dollars) is deposited into these accounts. And not requiring a taxpayer to pay income tax on gains earned in an education savings account as long as he spends the money a certain way is not a government subsidy and is always a good thing from the standpoint of the taxpayer’s liberty and property. Gun Control and the Se... Laurence M. Vance Buy New $5.95 (as of 09:10 EST - Details)

Tuition tax deductions reduce one’s income subject to tax. The tuition and fees deduction is found on line 34 of the 1040 tax form and is reported on form 8917. It can reduce the amount of income subject to tax by up to $4,000 as long as one’s modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) is not over $80,000 ($160,000 if married filing jointly). Some states also allow a tax deduction for tuition expenses.

Tuition tax deductions are libertarian, but not because they are related to education. A tuition tax deduction does not mean that the government is paying any child’s tuition. And not requiring a taxpayer to pay tax on all of his income, for whatever reason, is not a government subsidy and is always a good thing from the standpoint of the taxpayer’s liberty and property.

Tuition tax credits are dollar-for-dollar reductions of the amount of tax owed on one’s income. The credit for educational expenses is found on line 50 of the 1040 tax form. and is reported on form 8863. The lifetime learning credit can reduce one’s tax owned by up to $2,000 for qualified education expenses as long as one’s MAGI is not over $65,000 ($131,000 if married filling jointly). The American opportunity credit can reduce one’s tax owned by up to $2,500 per qualified student for qualified education expenses as long as one’s MAGI is not over $90,000 ($180,000 if married filing jointly). Some states also allow a tax credit for tuition expenses. A tax credit on the federal level for the full amount of tuition paid at a private school is an idea that has been around for years.

Tuition tax credits are libertarian, but not because they are related to education. A tuition tax credit does not mean that the government is paying any child’s tuition. And not requiring a taxpayer to pay all of the tax owed on his income, for whatever reason, is not a government subsidy and is always a good thing from the standpoint of the taxpayer’s liberty and property. The only other thing that needs to be said regarding tax credits is that refundable tax credits are not libertarian because they allow a “taxpayer” to receive a refund of money that he never paid in to the government. Forty percent of the American opportunity tax credit may be refundable. King James, His Bible,... Laurence M. Vance Best Price: $14.25 Buy New $19.95 (as of 09:10 EST - Details)

The libertarian position on education is a simple one. Government should not operate public schools, fund anyone’s education, or regulate education in any way.

This means no mandatory-attendance laws, no property taxes to pay for public schools, no public-school teachers, no Pell Grants, no student loans, no research grants to colleges, no teacher-education requirements, no government teacher-certification standards, no government school accreditation, no Title IX, special-education, desegregation, diversity, or bilingual-education mandates, no educational vouchers, no Higher Education, Elementary and Secondary Education, Education for All Handicapped Children, or No Child Left Behind Acts, no school breakfast or lunch programs, no Head Start funding, no Common Core, no standardized-testing requirements, no math and science initiatives, no Race to the Top funds, and no Department of Education.

Education of children is a service that parents should provide themselves or pay for just like when they need their car repaired or their lawn mowed.

As Ludwig von Mises wrote about education many years ago in his book Liberalism: “There is, in fact, only one solution: the state, the government, the laws must not in any way concern themselves with schooling or education. Public funds must not be used for such purposes. The rearing and instruction of youth must be left entirely to parents and to private associations and institutions.”

If there is to be any state involvement in education, it must be limited to the state level. The federal government has been given no such authority by its Constitution. But this is only because every state has a provision in its constitution for the operation of K-12 schools, colleges, and universities, not because it is libertarian for the states to do so.