This section is from the "The Subvention In The State Finances Of Pennsylvania" book, by Frederic B. Garver.
As may be seen at a glance, the local levy of taxes for the support of the common schools increased steadily throughout the eleven years under consideration. The subvention, on the other hand, declined relatively and absolutely. It was more than $100,000 smaller in 1854 than in 1844. Furthermore, the payments from the state treasury, which had amounted to about two-thirds as much as the local levies in 1844, were only about one-eighth as great in 1854.
It must not be supposed, however, that this was a period of famine for all interests dependent upon the state treasury. For the contractors who extended and repaired the public works it was rather one of feasting and abundance. *15 Nor did expenditures for the maintenance of state officers give evidence of a policy of strict economy. In 1844 the Auditor General reported $254,453 expenditures for general government15 and in 1854 an outgo of $290,606 for the same purpose. *17 As was but natural in American politics of those days, the legislature economized first on expenditures that were politically least useful.
The effect of the parsimony of the legislature upon the school system was the subject for annual lamentation by the superintendent of common schools. As early as 1845 that officer pointed out that curtailing the appropriation had resulted in a shorter average school term for all districts, *18 and in 1849 he came forward with a proposal for a state inheritance tax upon direct heirs, which, in his opinion, would have produced $1,250,000, or enough completely to finance the school system. *19 But the legislature was deaf to his recommendations and no such tax was imposed.-
12 Supt. of Common Schools, Report (1861), p. 240.
13 Act 12 April, 1838, P.L. p. 333.
14 Supt. of Common Schools, Report (1861), p. 240. These data do not include the financial statements of the schools in Philadelphia, which did not report to the state superintendent. The figures for amounts paid by state appropriation do not agree with the figures given by the state auditor general and by the state treasurer, since the fiscal year of the state began Dec. 1, while that of the school system began the first Monday in June.
15 See Bishop, Ch. V, especially pp. 236-242.
16 Report (1844), p. 23.
17 Report (1854), p. 39. See also the discussion in the House of Representatives on 11 Feb., 1854, in which the history of the contingent expenses appropriation was inadvertently aired. Daily Legislative Union, I, p. 87.
18 Report (1845), p. 7.
Throughout the state, not only in the legislature, but also among the the people in the districts, interest in the schools seems to have languished. This indifference was attributed to a variety of causes. Well-trained teachers were lacking; there was no suitable agency for determining the fitness of applicants for teaching positions; *20 the state appropriation was inadequate; administration of the schools was too greatly decentralized; and, finally, the legal provisions for levying, collecting, and account-for school revenues were awkward and inadequate. *21
The failure of the state to contribute amply to the support of the system was partly due to financial difficulties and partly to indifference. The same causes restricted local contributions. The financial difficulties of the local governments were partly artificial and partly real. Among the artificial difficulties was the clumsy law of 1836, which fixed the maximum tax that could be levied by the directors at three times the amount of the district's proportion of the state subvention for the year of 1836. If larger revenues were needed, resort had to be made to a meeting of the voters of the district, who alone had power to assent to taxes in excess of the maximum of three times the state subvention.
Other provisions of the law of 1836 also proved vexatious and cumbersome in their operation. *22 Concrete evidence of the need for more liberal laws was given by the state superintendent in 1848. In that year's report appeared a list of more than a dozen districts, scattered throughout the state, that were not entitled to receive more than $10 annually from the state subvention. The sum of the subvention and the tax that the directors of these districts could legally levy was less than $100, which was obviously insufficient to pay the wages of a competent teacher for an adequate term, to say nothing of defraying the cost of fuel, repairs, and other maintenance charges. *23 This difficulty was removed by the act of 1849, which fixed the maximum tax that the directors could levy at an amount sufficient, with the aid of the subvention, to keep the schools in operation ten months during the year. *24
19 Report (1849), p. 13.
20 The president of the board of directors, or some other administrative officer examined the applicant.
21 See Supt. of Common Schools, Report (1847), pp. 5, 7; Report (1850), p. 6; Report (1856, p. 12; Report (1857), p. 43.
22 Supt. of Common Schools, Report (1845), pp. 6-7.
23 Report (1848), p. 9.
24 Act 7 April, 1849, P.L. p. 446.