This section is from the "The Subvention In The State Finances Of Pennsylvania" book, by Frederic B. Garver.
In 1863 the legislature attempted to change the method of distribution and enacted that thereafter the grant should be distributed to each district "in proportion to the number of pupils attending the school therein. . . . *48 But the state superintendent found it inadvisable to make the distribution on the basis prescribed by the law. In the first place, the terms of the act were indefinite. What did "the number of pupils attending the schools" mean? Was it the total number enrolled during the school year? Or was it the average attendance? If the latter, how should the average be computed? But had the law defined accurately the basis for distribution, the plan would have been unworkable, in the opinion of the superintendent, because the reports received from the districts were so unreliable that any distribution based thereon would have been likely to work great injustice. *49 Because of the objections to the new scheme the superintendent did not obey the law, and no distribution was made for the year ending June, 1864,50 until the legislature re-enacted the old provision for distribution according to taxables. *51
It must not be assumed that the old method of apportioning the state appropriation was reinstated because it gave satisfaction. On the contrary, both state and local officials were well aware of its imperfections, and many were the voices raised against it. In 1863 the state superintendent showed at length how utterly inadequate and unjust it was. The following table, which gives data concerning two of the wealthier and more populous, and two of the poorer and more sparsely settled counties, shows concretely the objections to the basis of distribution employed.
48 Act 14 April, 1863, P.L. p. 365.
49 Supt. of Common Schools, Report (1863), pp. xv-xvi.
50 Idem, (1864), p. 41.
51 Act 17 March, 1864, P.L. p. 23.
Tax levied (mills per dollar)
per scholar in attendance
No. of taxa-
Subvention per school
Subvention per scholar
3.08 10.40 3.45 9.41 5.89
.90 7.15 1.86 7.00 3.63
61.7 24.8 70.0 21.6
0.77 0.37 0.54
1 Supt. of Common Schools, Report (1865), Tabular Statement, pp. 288-289, and p. 22.
While the reports from which these data are compiled are not strictly accurate, the results are sufficiently dependable to enable us to make certain general observations. It is apparent that the denser population of Lancaster and Delaware enabled each district within those counties to draw a much larger subvention than was possible for those of Potter and Sullivan counties. Hence the amount of the subvention per school was much larger in the former two counties. Of course, since each school also enrolled more pupils in Lancaster and in Delaware counties, the cost of operating was greater; but not greater in proportion to the number of children, since the cost of conducting a public school does not increase in the same ratio as the number of children in attendance. To distribute the subvention according to taxable inhabitants is to give according to ability and not according to need.