Originally posted by Gonzotek
It's never free. You(or someone) pay(s) taxes, then the government pays the school for x-number of students. If students are required to pay for their education, that will make taxes go down (or prevent them from going up as much).
You have to weigh up the benefits and disbenefits - if students are made to pay for their education, less will be able to afford to - so consequently less will go. This will mean there will be less skilled people available to work, so businesses will look elsewhere for skills. Thus the GDP of the country will decline in relation to other countries.
If, on the other hand, education is provided by the state, the amount of skilled workers will increase. Therefore your GDP will increase or stay constant in relation to other countries as firms invest in your stock of labour. This is a good thing, because as people earn more they become better off and more able to pay the taxes that fund the education system.
Therefore, although there's no such thing as a free lunch, the provision of education to all, rather than just to those that can afford it is more beneficial to society than if you create a well-educated rich elite.