This section is from the "The Subvention In The State Finances Of Pennsylvania" book, by Frederic B. Garver.
An examination of the reports of the state superintendent reveals only a small number of cases in which the subvention had been forfeited for this cause. *40 But the number of districts that were thus disciplined does not prove or disprove the efficacy of the provision, any more than the number of convictions for burglary proves or disproves the vigilance of the police in guarding property. Competent, unprejudiced, contemporaneous opinion as to the effect of the provision is meagre. Perhaps the best is a statement in debate in the Constitutional Convention of 1872-73 to the effect that were it not for the power of the central authorities to withhold the subvention, directors would often employ teachers who were not well qualified. *41 No single argument was used more frequently in this convention to support the demand for an article fixing a minimum subvention than the statement that by means of such a subvention the central authorities had been able to coerce the district officers into observance of the law and to induce backward districts to make needed improvements in their schools. To insure the continuance of this advantage several of the delegates asserted that the subvention should be permanent and as large as the state could afford to pay. *42 Wickersham also puts the same argument tersely when he writes that the state appropriation had "always been a lever to overcome obstructions blocking the way, and to lift the system from a lower to a higher plane. " *43 Perhaps the best short statement of this function of the subvention is to be found in the state superintendent's report for 1848, which characterized it as "a check to injustice, an excitement to apathy, and a reward for well doing. " *41
39 Act 8 May, 1854, P.L. pp. 625-628.
40 See Report (1865), p. 298; Report (1867), p. 367-368 for typical statements.
41 By Mr. Mann, Convention to Amend the Constitution (1872-1873), Debates, II, p. 437, col. 1.
42 See speeches of Darlington, Mann, Harry White Lear, idem, pp. 419ff.
This is what the ideal subvention should do, but, as we have seen, at the very time this officer was writing directors were misapplying funds, and the people seemed indifferent to the success or failure of the schools. It remains to show that the method employed for distributing the grant was not calculated always to reward well doing and to punish neglect and incompetence.
Whether a subvention will destroy apathy and excite local authorities to zealous performance of their duties, depends, of course, upon whether the grant is made a reward for well doing and a whip to be held over the heads of the careless and inefficient. If the subvention is paid regardless of the standard of performance maintained in the service aided, it may afford a welcome relief from local taxation and may serve to equalize the burden of taxation, but it is more likely to pauperize the local governments and to make them indifferent than to stimulate them to greater activity. Pennsylvania did not, during this period, arrive at a complete solution of the problem of making the grant to common schools a spur to activity and a reward for well-doing. This was due, in the first place, to the failure to prescribe stringent regulations for districts receiving the subvention. Of course, each district was required to keep its schools in operation for a minimum term in each year and to employ teachers deemed competent by the county superintendent, and to make reports to the state superintendent. But there were no requirements as to mechanical equipment, curriculum, *45 wages paid teachers, or the sanitation of school houses.
43 p. 343.
44 Report (1848), p. 11.
45 Except a meagre one applied in 1854.
In distributing the subvention the legislators seem to have consulted the parable of the talents, for in its workings the method of distribution gave large subventions to the more populous and wealthier districts and small ones to the sparsely settled, poorer communities. The earlier laws provided that the subvention should be divided among the counties in accordance with the number of taxables enumerated triennially by the local tax authorities. The quota going to each county was then divided among the districts in accordance with the number of taxable residents in each. *46 The act of 1836 provided for the distribution of the state subvention directly to the districts in proportion to the number of taxables resident in each. *47 This method was maintained throughout the period under consideration.
46 See Sec. 19, Act 1 April, 1834, P.L. p. 177. The term "taxable" is synonomous with " taxable inhabitant of the district." See Act 15 April, 1834, P.L. p. 512, which includes the persons paying taxes on real estate and on certain enumerated kinds of personal estate, and all holders of taxable offices, posts of profit, professions, trades and occupations and all single freemen above the age of twenty-one years who did not follow any occupation or calling. "Who is a taxable inhabitant? Clearly, a taxable is one who is, or who may lawfully be, taxed." In re Proceedings for Approval of Ordinance of the City of Chester, etc., 174 Pa. 180 (1896).
47 Act 13 June, 1836, P.L. p. 529.