This section is from the "The Subvention In The State Finances Of Pennsylvania" book, by Frederic B. Garver.
It is noticeable that after the state tax on real estate was removed, in 1866, the local levies for school purposes increased very rapidly. But the period of large annual additions had begun somewhat earlier. Hence, it can hardly be said that the repeal of the real estate tax was a controlling factor in the growth of local taxation.
By way of summary we may note the points brought out by this discussion of the finances of the school system from 1844 to 1873. (1) The failure of the state to contribute generously to the support of the schools was partly responsible for the lack of public interest from 1844 to 1850; but, (2) the revival of interest following that year, and the great increase in local taxation which occurred in the 'sixties, was probably not due so much to state aid as to reforms in the management of the schools and to the development among the people of an appreciation of the value of public education. (3) The subvention was useful, however, in compelling backward districts to contribute more freely to the support of their schools.
4 These totals are given as reported by the Superintendent.
5 The figures given in these two columns do not, of course, total 100 per cent, since the total of revenue receipts and the total of expenditures were not always equal. Also considerable amounts were borrowed, especially for the purpose of building school houses.
6 This amount includes " fees of collectors and treasurers, salaries to secretaries, debt and interest, and all other expenses," apparently for the first time. See Report (1873), p. 338.
The second problem that was brought up for solution during this period was how to secure financial accountability for district officers. Local audit of accounting for funds entrusted to the district treasurer was required by all the earlier laws as well as by the acts of 1849. *32 and 1854. *33 But the state had no agency for determining whether the funds it appropriated for the support of the schools were faithfully applied. A very feeble attempt was made to guarantee the central government against misapplication of funds and against illegal participation in the subvention by districts that did not live up to the requirements of the law by requiring detailed reports to the state superintendent. These reports, which were supposed to cover the financial management of the schools, were required to be in the hands of the superintendent before any district could participate in the state grant. But, by the acts of 1836 and 1849, the superintendent was compelled to draw his warrant for the payment of the subvention to any district whose directors made the required reports and forwarded to him a certificate showing that they had levied the minimum tax. *34 The provisions of the law were mandatory and left the superintendent no discretion.
Unfortunately, the superintendent had no means of knowing whether the reports were reliable, whether the taxes were actually collected, or whether the amount received from the state was actually used for school purposes. This lack of central control was a standing and open invitation to fraud and deception, and district officers took advantage of it. In some districts the boards of directors levied the minimum taxes and forwarded the certificate to the state superintendent, who was thereby required to provide for the payment of the district's quota of state aid. Before the taxes were collected, however, the warrant was withdrawn from the local collector, and no school taxes were really levied. The money received from the state was then used to keep the schools open for a short time. *35 How frequently this ruse was worked we cannot, of course, determine. The state superintendent stated that such practices were "not common." He was quite certain, however, that the reports submitted by the boards of directors were often garbled, or "faked," and still oftener, carelessly compiled.
32 Sec. 14, Act 7 April, 1849, P.L. p. 443.
33 Sec. 16, Act 8 May, 1854, P.L. p. 620.
34 See Sec. 30, Act 7 April, 1849, P.L. pp. 447-448. 35 Supt. of Common Schools, Report (1849), p. 3.
"More fraudulent practices were sometimes discovered. In numerous instances, and in many school districts, the tax duplicate was withdrawn from the hands of the collector as soon as the warrant for the share of the district in the state appropriation was received and cashed, and no tax collected, no teachers employed, no schools opened, and the money appropriated by the state to sustain a languishing system of public instruction by common schools, applied to the repair of the township roads and highways, and other similar illegal purposes; or what is infinitely worse, transferred to the pockets of the directors themselves as compensation for their official services. Warrants were sometimes obtained on vouchers manufactured for the purpose, and the money drawn from the treasury applied to the benefit of parties having no official connection with the schools." Or, "Inadequate and often no security was required of the treasurers and collectors, and as a consequence, accounts were carelessly kept, and defalcations by no means uncommon, and money which should have been devoted to the education of the pupil, used for private speculation, while dishonored school orders were hawked about the neighborhood in fruitless search of payment or barter. The payment of large fees to justices of the peace for legal advice and the monopolizing of the school fund by the directors in liberal contracts with themselves to build and repair schoolhouses . . . presents still another phase of these financial embarrassments. " *36
36 Supt. of Common Schools, Report (1855), p. 6. 27 Report (1873),p.xi.