This section is from the "The Subvention In The State Finances Of Pennsylvania" book, by Frederic B. Garver.
The lack of system in the appropriations is, however, found in the subventions to that part of the school system which is completely under state and local control, namely the common public schools. The history of the grant to common schools shows that it has sometimes been used to stimulate local interest, sometimes to equalize the burdens of state and local taxation, sometimes to secure the extension of the school term, sometimes to raise teachers' wages, and lately to encourage the adoption of vocational training departments. But, as has been pointed out by State Superintendent Schaeffer, *172 the amount of the subvention has not, in recent years, kept pace with the growing needs of the schools. *173 Local taxation has supplied the lack, but there are indications that in the rural districts the limit has about been reached in this direction, either because of the growing burden of taxation or because of the localities refusal to support the schools adequately.
The conclusion must not be drawn, however, that the subvention has accomplished nothing, in recent years, except the relief of the local tax payers. Much good has been done directly by causing better salaries to be paid and by aiding financially weak districts. Moreover, the fact that the state contributes a portion of the revenue for the support of the schools has enabled it not only to make and to enforce standards of efficiency, but also to intervene informally, through the office of the state superintendent, for the betterment of the schools. The creation of the State Board of Education and the establishment of a state school fund may also be regarded as additional measures for the utilization of central control for the purpose of raising the standard of efficiency of the district schools. But much remains to be done before educational opportunities in all the districts shall be equal to a reasonalbe minimum. The subvention for education cannot, therefore, be said to have been entirely successful in acheiving the principal purpose for which it exists at the present time.
172 Report (1915), pp. 11-12.
173 See table on p. 159, supra.
The lack of complete success is due, in part, to the failure of the legislature to contrive a method of distributing the grant which shall not only aid the weaker districts to maintain good schools, but which shall also either encourage or coerce those localities which suffer only from indifference. Failure to provide sanitary and comfortable buildings, or to keep the schools in session for the major portion of the year, or to employ good teachers is due, in some districts, to unwillingness to pay as heavy taxes as a majority of the districts are accustomed to levy. Against these laggards the threat of withholding the subvention is only partially successful, since the required standards of performance cannot, at the present time, be raised high enough. If they were many of the poorer mountain districts would not be able to comply. The remedy for these conditions would include two things. (1) Very much more exacting requirements for districts participating in the subvention, and (2) an appropriation placed at the disposal of an administrative board for the assistance of the districts that cannot provide good schools even by levying heavy taxes.
The subvention to normal schools has served its purpose and is on the way to extinction. At a time when such schools were more or less of an experiment, and when the state was unable to maintain teachers' training schools, the subvention aided in establishing a much needed service. But public opinion and the condition of the treasury would now permit state control and operation of all the normal schools, and it is generally admitted that better results can be obtained in state institutions.
The subvention to institutions of collegiate or university standing is the least systematic of all the important grants for education. The amounts appropriated vary greatly from year to year and seem to be based only upon legislative caprice and not upon the amount of service rendered the people of the state nor upon the excellence of that service. Moreover the appropriation is made to private corporations over which the state has no definite supervision or control. This is in violation of the principles of public administration and of public finance.
Although all the subventions for education have accomplished much good their usefulness might be greatly increased by the adoption of an educational budget policy. Such a policy presupposes a state budget, since the amount that the state should spend for education, in comparison with other services, cannot be scientifically determined until some kind of budgetary arrangements are adopted. The educational budget should be in charge of an administrative board, such as a board of education, which would apportion the disposable funds to those institutions which seemed most useful and most in need of state aid. Under such arrangements the state educational institutions might be so developed that they would complement each other. Moreover, since the board could be allowed considerable discretion in distributing the subvention to common schools, it would be possible to assist liberally the weaker but active districts in which the lack of good schools is due to a small amount of taxable wealth. On the other hand, the subvention might be either withheld from or greatly reduced to those districts which declined to impose adequate taxes.
Moreover, such a board would be able to advise the legislature intelligently in regard to the proportion of the funds available for education that should be expended for the support of high schools and of vocational training departments. It could also determine the amount that should be used to train teachers in normal schools.
In short, the subvention for education might be made much more effective for the development of a well rounded state educational system and for the equalization of educational opportunities throughout the state if the control of the schools were more completely centralized and if supervision and the apportionment of the subvention were placed in the hands of educational experts. This would, however, mean a voluntary surrender of a large amount of power by the legislature and by the local school authorities and in both cases the transfer of authority would be exceedingly difficult to accomplish. It is, therefore, very doubtful if it could be brought about at the present time.