But the most real financial difficulty that embarrassed the districts was the burden of state taxation imposed upon real and personal property by the Act of 1844. The school tax was levied upon practically the same bases and constituted an additional burden. Hence the school system " was left to depend for a feeble existence on the remnant of that property which public exaction had left in the pockets of the people. *25 It was not until the state tax upon real estate was repealed, in 1866, that this difficulty was removed. *26

During the years 1844 to 1854, as has been pointed out, the state subvention decreased, and, therefore, no aid in improving the financial condition of the schools was secured from the state treasury. Attempts to gain larger local support were, however, successful. The first method of obtaining better local support was to make the conditions for participation in the state subvention more difficult. In the act of 1848, and again in the codifying act of 1849, it was provided that before any district could participate in the subvention it must have levied taxes sufficient, in conjunction with its share of the subvention, to keep its schools in operation at least four months during the school year. *27 But the districts revolted against this requirement, accompanied as it was by no declaration or even intimation that the state would bear a part of the increased cost, and the prescribed term was reduced to three months in 1850. *28 In 1854 local sentiment in favor of a longer minimum term was strong enough to permit the re-enactment of the four months' requirement. *29 The minimum term remained four months until the law of 1872 increased it to five months. *30

25 Supt. of Common Schools, Report (1849), p. 13.

26 Act 23 Feb., 1866, P.L. p. 83.

27 See Act 7 April, 1849, P.L. p. 446.

28 Act 6 May, 1850, P.L. p. 703.

29 Act 8 May, 1854, P.L. pp. 623-624.

30 Act 9 April, 1872, P. L. p. 46. This act made an exception for those districts in which local taxes were already imposed at the maximum rate permitted by law without securing enough revenue to keep the schools open more than four months.

Of course the requirement for the minimum term was never increased until the majority of the schools were annually in operation for as long, or a longer term than the new minimum contemplated. When the minimum was set at five months, in 1872, the average length of term for all districts had been in excess of that minimum for many years. The purpose of the requirement was to spur on the laggards. *31

The effect of the law making the adoption of the system compulsory, and of the awakened interest in the schools, is seen in the great increase of local revenues raised for their support after 1854.

Finances Of The Common School System, Philadelphia Excluded, 1855 To 18731

             

Local School

Year2

Expenditures for Common Schools3

State Subvention

Taxes

               

%of

 

For In-

For

For Fuel

 

Amount

% of Total

 

Total

 

struc-

School-

and Con-

Total4

of Sub-

Com. School

Amt.

Com.

 

tion

houses

tingencies

 

vention

Expenditures5

Collected

School Expen-

 

(000)

(000)

(000)

(000)

(000)

 

(000)

ditures5

1855

$1,042

$ 266

$ 110

$1,418

$160

11.3

$1,128

79.5

1856

1,146

332

141

1,618

164

10.1

1,372

84.8

1857

1,137

444

173

1,754

165

9.4

1,535

87.5

1858

1,326

454

163

1,943

189

9.7

1,555

80.0

1859

1,404

531

168

2,103

187

8.9

1,621

77.1

1860

1,442

448

210

2,201

194

8.8

1,639

74.5

1861

1,436

496

223

2,156

210

9.8

1,783

82.7

1862

1,367

356

232

1,955

211

10.7

1,756

89.8

1863

1,498

395

251

2,143

212

9.9

1,797

83.9

1864

1,699

489

309

2,396

216

9.0

2,016

83.7

1865

1,991

374

410

2,775

210

7.5

2,318

83.7

1866

2,212

597

458

3,267

233

7.1

2,802

85.8

1867

2,483

985

601

4,069

240

5.9

3,489

85.7

1868

2,619

1,358

642

4,619

219

4.8

4,314

93.4

1869

2,819

1,195

728

5,542

308

5.5

5,068

91.4

1870

3,011

2,560

808

6,379

321

5.0

5,685

89.1

1871

3,183

3,006

799

6,989

318

4.5

6,023

86.2

1872

3,221

2,537

864

6,471

429

6.6

5,439

84.1

1873

3,425

1,478

1,7566

6,659

475

7.1

6,672

100.2

1 Supt. of Common Schools, Report (1873), p. 338.

2 The fiscal year of the school system began the first Monday in June.

3 The reader should not attribute a great degree of accuracy to these data. They were compiled by the superintendent from the reports of more than a thousand districts whose officers, in probably a majority of cases, did not keep accurate accounts. The table is given for the purpose of showing general tendencies.

3-1 For evidence that the subvention served the purpose and that its function was well recognized, see the statement of Mr. Lear, in Convention to Amend the Constitution, (1872-1873), Debates, II, p. 435, col. 2.

Some striking facts are brought out by this table. It is quite apparent that the increase in local taxation could not have been principally the result of encouragement given by the state grant, since the augmentation began before the state appropriation showed an upward tendency. Thus the increase of more than $400,000 in local revenues from 1855 to 1857 came at a time when the amount of the subvention was at about the lowest point in its history. Also the expenditure for building purposes made starthng increases during the years 1865 to 1868, when the state appropriation was nearly at a standstill. The fact that the proportion of the total expenditure contributed by the state decreased steadily, with the exception of the last two years, also indicates that the subvention was not the primary cause of the great outpouring of local resources in support of free schools.