This section is from the "The Subvention In The State Finances Of Pennsylvania" book, by Frederic B. Garver.
There was no important change in the policy of the state toward academies and colleges until 1838. Table I in the appendix shows that in 1830, 1831, and in 1833, no payments were made to academies or seminaries, and during the three years 1835, 1836 and 1837 the total expenditures from the state treasury for their benefit amounted to less than $1,000. The state had failed to establish a system of secondary education by subsidizing private institutions and the smallness of the grants is indicative of lack of confidence in the existing institutions. During the years 1826 to 1838 colleges fared somewhat better, but in only one year were payments for their support of importance.
105 Report of the Secretary of the Commonwealth to the Constitutional Convention of 1837-38, Proceedings and Debates, III, p. 10. This source of objection to the introduction of free schools was widespread, and Pennsylvania cannot be supposed to have offered a peculiar example for, as Professor Swift has shown, one of the reasons for the general establishment of the permanent school funds during the first quarter of the century was to avoid the necessity of levying heavy local taxes. And the use of the permanent school-fund income to incite local authorities to greater efforts on behalf of the common schools was well recognized in New York, Massachusetts, and Maine. See also Mayo, p. 260.
In 1836 the contributions of the state for the support of the academies during the preceding years totaled $169,000 in cash or wealth readily convertible into cash. Lands whose estimated value approximated $135,000 had also been donated to them. *106 Very few of the schools that had received these gifts were then in operation and a majority of those still running were engaged in teaching elementary subjects. The opinion of the Secretary of the Commonwealth concerning the earlier subvention policy of the state toward these institutions is enlightening. "It is believed," he wrote, "that no grants have ever been made by the State with less general good effect than those to academies. It seems to have been intended to endow one strong institution of this kind in each county, as a kind of radiating point in the county system of education; but the project has proved nearly a total failure. *107 The opinion of the Secretary (who was also, it must be remembered, at this time the Superintendent of Common Schools) that the academies had failed miserably, was supported by Mr. Morgan, an ex-president of Western University, who reported to a voluntary organization in Philadelphia, that the policy of the state in endowing academies and small colleges without reference to the needs of the different communities had not been accompanied by success. *108 In fact, the belief that the subventions to secondary schools had failed to promote the upbuilding of such schools seems to have been generally concurred in. In the debates of the constitutional convention practically no one ventured to defend the subvention policy pursued in earlier years.
The reasons for the failure of the state to cause the development of secondary schools by means of subventions before 1838 are not difficult to discover. In the first place, the policy assumed that if the state assisted the academies and seminaries, the parochial, subscription, and other private schools might be trusted to take care of elementary education. Such an assumption, we can now understand, was erroneous. It was impossible for the secondary schools to prosper until a considerable number of pupils had been sufficiently trained in the elementary subjects to be able to pursue the more advanced. It was also assumed that the parochial and private schools would furnish students for the academies. But experience proved that only a relatively small proportion of the pupils passed from the elementary to the secondary schools. And the lack of a large number of pupils educated in public common schools could not be offset by the small number that the occasionally well-conducted private schools could supply. The mistake was made in applying state aid at the wrong point.
106 Report of the Secretary of the Commonwealth to the Constitutional Convention of 1837-38, Proceedings and Debates, III, p. 7.
108 A Report on Public Education, (1836), p. 14.
Another defect in the early policy was its lack of system. The political influences that were brought to bear upon the legislature resulted in endowing too many academies The General Assembly had no means at hand to determine, when an academy applied for a charter, whether there was within the county in which it was to be located any real reason for its existence. Furthermore, there seems to have been practically no attempt to inquire into the financial support that the academy could command in addition to the state grant. Thus it came about that the legislature chartered indiscriminately and aided too widely. The application of $169,000 in cash and of lands worth $135,000 to a few good institutions properly distributed throughout the state, might have brought fair returns, but the granting of the same amount to forty-five schools, over a period of about fifty years, was a careless waste of resources. In 1836 it was supposed that only seventeen of the forty-five were in operation, and many of these were giving elementary instruction. *109 Even Wickersham, who is inclined to see some good in all the attempts made by the state and by individuals to assist in building up educational institutions, criticises severely the policy of the legislature in dealing with the academies. *110
After so dismal a failure, it was scarcely to be expected that the state would revive the grants to academies. Soon after the passage of the common school law of 1836, however, it became evident that an attempt would be made to increase the subsidies to these institutions. This was due to the then recent establishment of the system of common schools. When the laws of 1834 and of 1836 went into effect it was discovered that there was a great dearth of competent teachers. And, as was obvious, the public schools could not be expected to succeed unless some provision was made for training the men and women who expected to teach in them. The lack of trained teachers and the absence of secondary schools or training schools, in which they might be prepared, was commented upon by nearly every state superintendent of common schools throughout this period. *111 It was but natural that under the circumstances an attempt would be made to revive the defunct academies.
109 Report of the Secretary of the Commonweatlh to the Constitutional Convention of 1837-38, Proceedings and Debates, III, p. 7.
110 Pp. 382-384.
111 See for example the statement of Superintendent Burrowes, Report (1838), p. 17.
In the second place, after the elementary schools were established the more enthusiastic educators began to plan for publicly supported secondary schools. The act of 1836 had given the controllers of the Philadelphia schools the authority to establish a central high school for those of its youth who desired further education after leaving the elementary schools. *112 Since there was no limitation as to the use that that city might make of its share of the subvention, which would preclude such a procedure, it may be said that the state was here aiding secondary education. *113 In 1838 the state superintendent advocated state aid not only for private academies but also for secondary and practical business schools and for colleges. The secondary and the practical schools he believed should be free and supported by taxation. *114 There was a general movement to complete, or at least to advance toward completion, a system of public education extending from the primary grades through the college.
In 1838 the legislature passed an act to encourage the arts and sciences, to promote the teaching of useful knowledge, and to support colleges, academies and female seminaries. *115 It was provided that $ 1,000 should be paid annually to each college or university that was already incorporated, or that might be incorporated in the future, having four or more professors and one hundred students. The state also agreed to pay from $300 to $500 annually to each academy or female seminary that then was, or should in the future be incorporated. *115
112 Sec. 23, Act 13 June, 1836, P.L. p. 533.
113 The cost of maintaining this high school was about $14,000 annually. See Reports of the Controllers for 1839 and 1844.
114 Supt. Common Schools, Report (1838), p. 16.
115 Act 12 April, 1838, P.L. pp. 333-334.