This section is from the "The Subvention In The State Finances Of Pennsylvania" book, by Frederic B. Garver.
Practically no limitations were placed upon the grant. With respect to curriculum it was required merely that teachers must be employed capable of giving instruction in Latin, Greek, mathematics and English, or English and German literature. It should be noted that the act did not require that any one of these subjects be taught, and there was no provision for administrative inquiry into the qualifications of the teachers employed. Reports to the state superintendent were required as to the conduct of the seminaries, academies, and colleges, but an inspection of the reports of that officer fails to reveal anything but the most superficial generalities concerning education in these institutions.
116 The amount paid depended upon the number of teachers and of pupils taught. Academies and seminaries having at least 15 students and one or more teachers competent to teach certain subjects were to be paid $300, those having from 25 to 40 pupils and one teacher $400,40 pupils or over and two or more teachers $500.
As might have been expected, a large number of academies and seminaries immediately sought to obtain a share in the subvention. At the session of the General Assembly during which the subvention act was passed twenty-seven seminaries and nineteen academies were incorporated and in the following year eight seminaries and twenty-six academies were chartered. *117 During the first year of operation of the law forty-three academies and fifteen seminaries were paid money under the provisions of the act, and in 1843 sixty-four academies and thirty-seven seminaries received the subsidy. *118
In 1839 the legislature awoke to the fact that unless some check were put upon the increase of academies and seminaries, either the subsidy would automatically absorb a very large part of the revenue of the state, or it would be necessary to reduce the amount of the grant to each school. In that year at least seven academies were incorporated with charters providing that they should not participate in the annual state subsidy, while one received a gift of $2,000 for building purposes with no right of participation. *119
In 1839, the first year in which the system was really in full operation, the subsidies paid under this act amounted to $38,994, while in 1843, $48,298 were disbursed. *120 The act of 1838 had provided that this subsidy should be paid for ten years, but in 1843 the legislature, looking about for opportunities to economize, reduced the subvention to $23,500 and repealed the act of 1838. *121 In the following year no appropriation was made to these institutions. *122 The making of outright gifts of money had practically been discontinued in 1843 and the act of 1844 put an end to the annual subvention to these institutions.
117 See indices of session laws for years given, under "Academies," and under "Seminaries."
118 Wickersham, p. 386.
119 See acts passed in 1839, P.L. pp. 481, 505, 508, 312, 477, 494 and 196. Wickersham, p. 386, asserts that the beginning of the non-participating charters came in 1840.
120 Wickersham, p. 387, and reports of state superintendents for years 1838 to 1843. These amounts are smaller than the amounts given in Table I, because that table includes all payments to academies, seminaries and colleges, whether occasional grants or subventions paid under the act of 1838.
121 Act 29 Sept., 1843, P.L. of 1844, p. 6.
122 See Act 31 May, 1844, P.L. pp. 582-588.
Whether or not this second attempt to build up secondary schools by means of an annual subvention would have been more successful than the policy of haphazard occasional grants cannot, of course, be definitely determined. The amount of the annual subvention to each academy and each seminary was not large enough to have constituted its main financial support. It was large enough, however, to have been of material assistance to those institutions that could command a respectable support from the population surrounding them.
The most serious defects in the policy as set forth in the act of 1838 are not to be found in the amount of the subvention, but in the failure of the legislature properly to safeguard it. In the first place the legislature took no measures to prevent schools that could not command local support from obtaining charters and participating in the subvention. When the state aids a local institution it should always see to it that the revenue resources of that institution, other than state money, are sufficient when added to the subvention adequately to perform the services it is intended to render. Furthermore, the state should not make the subvention to institutions unless they are performing a service of great public benefit and performing it in such a manner as to command the respect and moral support of the people about them. In making the subvention to secondary education, the General Assembly did not observe these two principles.
Another defect in the act of 1838 was its failure to provide for central supervision of the service aided. This defect followed naturally from the failure to appreciate the two principles just enumerated.
When the subvention to secondary schools was repealed in 1844, the subsidy to colleges was also stopped, and the nine institutions that had received assistance from the state treasury, varying in amount from $3,500 to $10,354, were cut off with as little ceremony as were the academies and seminaries. The act of 1838 was a much more judicious measure than the earlier plan whereby colleges were granted lands, loaned money, and subsidized in a haphazard fashion. What was the actual benefit of the short-lived subsidy of 1838, or what might have been expected of it in the future are only matters for conjecture. The law required no audit either for the secondary schools or for the colleges, nor did it apply any control except the mild requirement of a report to the state superintendent of common schools. The failure to control the colleges was, of course, less to be condemned than lack of supervisory power over the secondary schools, because the former were not in an intermediate position, and because they were probably in the hands of more capable men. Contrary to the experience in the case of the secondary schools, the granting of the subsidy, in 1838, did not lead to the chartering of more colleges, and it may be assumed that the annual subvention of $1,000 was too small to tempt anyone to establish a new-institution. Or, perhaps, the fate of many small colleges chartered during the land-grant period served as a warning effectually to prevent the repetition of the over-provision of that day.