This section is from the "The Subvention In The State Finances Of Pennsylvania" book, by Frederic B. Garver.
That distribution according to the number of teachers employed should favor the sparsely settled communities is easily understood. A district that contained only three or four schools, in each of which only a dozen pupils were enrolled, received as much aid (from this one-third of the appropriation) as did other districts that employed the same number of teachers, but in which three times as many pupils were in attendance at the schools.
Although the act of 1897 was a victory for both the rural communities and the educators who desired a more rational method of distributing state aid, it was not regarded as a final achievement by either. In 1908 the state superintendent again entered a plea on behalf of the rural districts. In a few significant sentences he summed up the difficulties that stood in the way of the improvement of the rural schools. "The maxim: ' Equal school advantages for children all over the commonwealth' will always remain an iridescent dream, if the state does not vote a special appropriation to districts which, although levying the maximum school tax allowed by law, do not have money enough to keep their schools in operation during the minimum term of seven months. There are nineteen districts in which the schools were open six months; two districts in which the schools were open only five months. In all districts where the assessment of property is equal to its full value and where the maximum rate of tax does not suffice to run the schools during the minimum term, the state should come to the rescue of the children and give them school advantages equal to those of other districts. Although the law requires property to be assessed at its real value, the assessment varies from one-fourth of the market price up to figures in excess of what the property would bring at a forced sale. This variation in assessed values makes impossible any plan of distributing the school appropriation in which the millage or tax rate is the sole determining factor. " *47
It is quite clear that the superintendent was not deceived by the complaint of certain districts that they were unable to support good schools. A very high rate of taxation did not always mean that the districts imposing it were making great sacrifices to educate their children. It often meant that property was assessed at an unusually small fraction of its actual value, or that a portion of the taxable wealth was not assessed at all. But such conditions were probably not the rule. Hence the recommendation for more ample assistance for rural districts.
47 Report (1908), p. xv.
Dissatisfaction with the method of distribution instituted in 1897 continued to manifest itself, and, in 1911, another plan was adopted. *48 The law of that year required one-half of the state appropriation to be distributed on the basis of the number of teachers employed and one-half on the basis of the number of children between the ages of six and sixteen residing in the respective districts.49
This arrangement was more advantageous to the sparsely settled districts than was the method adopted in 1897, but it did not solve the rural school problem. "The most perplexing educational problem of today," wrote State Superintendent Schaeffer, in 1914, "is the rural school. One-room buildings, erected years ago, poorly lighted, insufficiently heated, inadequately ventilated, having unattractive surroundings and inadequate playgrounds, can be found in many sections of the state. The attendance is small, the equipment is meagre, the isolation is forbidding and the teacher accepts the place because no position is open to her anywhere else. Impassable roads make centralization impossible. Sometimes the maximum tax levy allowed by law is insufficient to keep the schools in operation during the minimum term of seven months. Sometimes the lack of funds is due to a low assessment, or to an unwillingness to raise the tax rate. " *50
All attempts to bring about a regeneration of these schools have been unsuccessful. Lack of local interest, lack of taxable wealth, and lack of willingness to pay taxes all stand in the way of improvement. "What the rural school districts need now, above everything else, is more money for better buildings and better teachers, and better highways for the transportation of pupils. *51
48 In that year the General Assembly adopted the School Code. In addition to compiling the laws then in force, this act introduced a number of marked innovations.
49 Act 18 May, 1911, P.L. pp. 309-461 at p. 420. The law reads as follows: "Section 2304. One-half [of the state appropriation shall be distributed] on the basis of the number of paid teachers regularly employed for the full annual term of the school district, not including substitute teachers, or teachers employed to fill vacancies which may occur during the school year; such number of teachers to be certified as herein provided.
" Section 2305. One-half on the basis of the number of children between the ages of six and sixteen residing in the respective school districts of the several counties of this commonwealth, as reported to the Superintendent of Public Instruction under provisions of this act."
This method of distribution is still in force. See The School Code (1917), pp. 122-123.
50 Report (1914), p. 21.
During the twenty years ending in 1916, there has been a marked tendency on the part of state superintendents to place a larger share of the blame for the failure of the common schools upon the people living in the districts where the less efficient schools are found. It has come to be recognized that a liberal state appropriation can make little improvement in localities where the population is indifferent to the need for better teachers and better equipment. If the statement just quoted is fairly indicative of the opinion of educators, the most promising remedy is centralization and not a larger state appropriation nor a different method of distribution. But centralization can scarcely accomplish all the reforms needed unless, at the same time, the inhabitants of the districts that stand most in need of improvement are aroused to an appreciation of their responsibilities as parents and as citizens.