This section is from the "The Subvention In The State Finances Of Pennsylvania" book, by Frederic B. Garver.
The discussion of methods of distributing the state appropriation and of attempts to induce the localities to improve the schools by maintaining longer terms and by paying better salaries to teachers, gives rise to some significant conclusions. In the first place, it is evident that a subvention to common schools is not a desirable method of equalizing the tax burden upon the different types of property that are taxed by the state and by the localities. There is no necessary relation between the amount of property subject to state taxation that a district may contain and the needs of that district for revenue for school purposes. And no system of distributing school funds that has been tried in Pennsylvania has involved an attempt to work justice between the localities in this matter.
Another objection to this method of equalization is its tendency to impede the use of the subvention for raising the standard of the schools. If the localities are told, as they were in Pennsylvania in the early 'nineties, that the subvention is a substitute for local taxation of corporate wealth, it becomes very difficult to prevail upon them to use additional appropriations for improvements, even after they have reduced the local tax rate to a fair level. If all the people in the districts were tax payers and if all were desirous of improving the common schools this might not be the case. But when the impression gets abroad that the state subvention is to be used for the relief of local taxation people are likely to forget that it is also intended as assistance in raising the standard of elementary education. Moreover, if a large proportion of those whose children attend the schools pay no taxes, it is but natural that the taxpayers should seek to shift the burden of supporting education.
A third objection arises from the fact that where the funds for making the subvention are derived from special state taxes upon railroads, banks, and the like, such funds must, in justice to the owners of the property subject to state taxes, be limited by the burden imposed upon property subject to taxation by the local authorities. A state and its subordinate divisions cannot, generally speaking, justly tax the property or the income of the owners of bank, railroad and other corporation securities at a higher rate than they tax the property or income of the owners of real estate. *101 When, therefore, the rate of taxation upon the incomes of security holders has reached the average rate imposed by the localities upon other property or income, no increase of the subvention is possible, except as the wealth subject to state taxation increases. Yet it may be highly desirable to increase the state appropriation for common or other schools.
101 This statement assumes (1) that the rates of public service enterprises are reasonable; (2) that, as is usually the case, there is no reason to suppose that all the stockholders are wealthier than the owners of property taxed locally; (3) that the corporations are conducting businesses to which no objections can be raised on the grounds of health, morals or general welfare.
A further conclusion is that an increase of the subvention does not result in a state-wide improvement of the service aided, unless it is accompanied by regulations that make conformity to certain standards of performance an absolute prerequisite for participation in state aid. It has been the experience of Pennsylvania that too often the additional state appropriations have either been extravagantly expended or used to relieve the residents of the districts of responsibility for supporting schools. In short, in many cases the state money pauperized the districts receiving it.
Finally, the history of the subvention to common schools in Pennsylvania shows that in making regulations for the districts the state is more likely to follow than to lead. The minimum term was advanced only after a majority of the districts had already been keeping their schools open for a period as long or longer than the new minimum. So too, in the case of the minimum salary acts, the law did not set the pace for the majority of the districts; it only assisted the laggards.
In addition to the regulations concerning the length of the school term and the salary of teachers, a number of less important restrictions were imposed by the state during the four decades under consideration. Among those minor regulations the most important is that which provides for the compulsory attendance of children at some school for a portion of each year.
Although the superintendent had pointed out, in 1874, that a large number of children was being denied the benefit of education, no action was taken by the legislature until 1895, when the first law compelling attendance was enacted. *102 The law was not universal in its application, since a number of exceptions were made through which a parent might legally refrain from sending his child to school.
102 Act 16 May, 1895, P.L. p. 74.