This section is from the "The Subvention In The State Finances Of Pennsylvania" book, by Frederic B. Garver.
Again, it is apparent that although the burden of taxation, as shown by the tax rates, was much heavier in Potter and in Sullivan counties, the school revenue per child accruing from these taxes was less than in Lancaster and in Delaware counties. Large subventions were accompanied by low tax rates and light school burdens, while small subventions were the reward of heavy taxation and great exertion to sustain the system. *52
It is not probable that a better basis for distribution than that of the number of taxables was available at the time the school system was put into operation. At that time no record was kept of the number of children of school age in each district, while the number of taxable inhabitants was readily ascertained by reference to the assessors' lists. Furthermore, the number of taxables was undoubtedly a fair index of the population of the districts, and it may be assumed that those who wrote the laws of 1834 and 1836 considered distribution according to population as fair as any method that might actually be devised. The fact that it was more than a decade later before the state superintendent began to criticise the method employed, is evidence that distribution according to taxables was generally conceded to work approximate justice during the early history of the system.
Discontent with the basis of distribution originally selected and the suggestion of other bases came only after the schools were firmly established and attention was turned to perfecting the system. But no solution of the problem was arrived at and a serious attempt to adopt a more just basis can hardly be said to have been made.
The period of 1844 to 1873 is one of development in the history of the subvention to common schools. The maintenance of schools becomes one of the statutory duties of the localities. The provision of revenues was settled, at least temporarily, by inducing the localities to provide more abundant revenues. And the augmentation of local support came about through the growth of interest in the schools and not because the state held out inducements in the form of larger subventions. While the question of ways and means was being settled, the state subvention was used to spur on the laggard districts to compel them to keep the schools open for a minimum term, and to conform somewhat to the standards set up by the state. Finally, during this period, the state slowly increased the power of its officers to inspect the services subsidized and to compel the faithful application of the subvention to the the purpose for which it was intended. But one of the most important problems, that of devising a suitable and efficient basis for the distribution of the subvention, was left unsettled.
52 For a good summary of the objections to distribution according to taxables, and some concrete examples of how that system worked, see Supt. of Common School Report (1865), pp. 23 ff.