This section is from the "The Subvention In The State Finances Of Pennsylvania" book, by Frederic B. Garver.
On the whole, the fact that in two public reports, separated by six years, considerable space is given to the misapplication of the state subvention is good evidence that such practices did exist. The record of these cases of petty graft is important in one respect only. It is not surprising that public morality was such that graft was connived at by the people in these districts. It is, however, important to observe that the condition which made graft and misapplication of funds possible was the lack of proper central control of the service aided. After 1854, when a more stringent law was passed, and the office of county superintendent created, such irregularities were probably rare; but there is some evidence of their having persisted after that date. Thus, in 1873, the state superintendent laments that "it is painful to admit that somewhat of the recklessness, if not dishonesty, that too often characterizes the holding of public moneys in these times, is chargeable now and then against those who are the chosen guardians of the education of the children of the Commonwealth. *37 By the law of 1854, the president of the local school board was required to make detailed reports to the county superintendent who in turn reported to the state superintendent. This provision must have exercised a salutary influence for honesty upon the local officers, since the county superintendent was too closely associated with local affairs to be deceived in the case of large frauds.
Thus, after twenty years of operation, the subvention to common schools was finally safeguarded against misapplication and fraud. The principle that when the state makes a subvention it must also take precautions to prevent such abuses as have just been enumerated is, and will be, of universal application as long as dishonest men can be elected to office. If the state appropriates money it must see to it that the money is honestly used. This principle was early discovered in the case of the common school subvention, and tardy action was taken to mitigate abuses in 1854. But so narrow is the range of vision of the average member of the General Assembly that only in recent years has it been recognized that a strict accounting should be required of private charities that receive public assistance. At present (1917) no effective accounting is required of those institutions.
Another salutary provision of the law of 1854 required that before the subvention should be paid the president of the board of directors must have certified that the schools had already been in operation four months during that school year. Failure to make reports to the state superintendent was, as has been mentioned, cause for withholding the subvention. Delay in making the report usually resulted in nothing more serious than delay in payment, and the reports of the superintendent from 1860 to 1873 practically all contained lists of districts which were supposed to be entitled to the subvention, but which had not yet made satisfactory annual reports. *38
38 See, for example, Report (1868), p. 379; Report (1873), pp. 339-340.
A third important problem of this period was that of obtaining competent teachers. Reports on the school system and other official documents contain many references to the difficulty of finding persons competent to give instruction in the elementary subjects. This problem was partially solved by the establishment of the normal schools under the act of 1857. The method employed by the state to induce private corporations to develop those institutions will be treated in the following section.
To provide adequate professional training for teachers does not, of course, insure efficient instruction. It is also necessary to require the districts to employ competent and well-trained teachers and to provide these teachers with good mechanical equipment. In the main, the state did not interfere directly with the local administration with respect to equipment. In some instances districts were given special minor concessions for buildings, but no restrictions were placed upon the type of building constructed.
The act of 1854 did, however, provide for very effectual interference with local autonomy in the selection of teachers. Previous to that date, the district officers were the sole judges of whether an applicant was qualified to teach in their schools. The law of 1854 changed this condition by requiring that teachers should be employed who were competent to give instruction in certain elementary subjects and made the county superintendent the judge of their competence. If any board of directors continued to employ teachers who had failed to meet the approval of the superintendent, they thereby forfeited their quota of the state subvention for that year. *39