This section is from the "The Subvention In The State Finances Of Pennsylvania" book, by Frederic B. Garver.
During the years 1887 to 1916, while the annual state appropriations increased from about $800,000 to over $6,000,000, the state gradually-made the conditions upon which the districts received the subvention more numerous and more exacting. The most important of these conditions was the requirement that districts which participated in state aid should keep their schools open for a specified length of time. This specified term was always a minimum, and, with certain exceptions, any district could maintain longer sessions if it so desired.
In 1872 the legislature increased the minimum term from four to five months. A way of escape was, however, left open for districts objecting to the expense of keeping their schools in operation for the additional month. The law provided that in case any district found the maximum tax permitted by law insufficient to finance a term of five months, the legal minimum should remain four months. *52 It is obvious that if the taxing authorities desired to evade the requirements of the law the way was open. If property was assessed for taxation at only a small fraction of its actual value, the school taxes might easily have reached the maximum rate allowed by law without yielding enough revenue to finance school terms of five months.
From 1872 to 1887 the minimum term remained unchanged. At various times the school officers advised the legislature that more regular and longer operation should be required, *53 but, since the legislature did not desire to increase the subvention, it was probably unwilling to raise the requirement. In 1887, however, when a substantial increase was added to the state appropriation, the requirement was advanced to six months. *54 Like the act of 1872, that of 1887 permitted districts to receive the subvention without complying with the requirement for a term of six months, if they could show that they were already levying the maximum tax allowed by law.55
52 Act 9 April, 1872, P.L. p. 46.
53 See, for example, Supt. of Public Instruction, Report (1882), p. x; (1886), p. 106.
In 1891, when the legislature appropriated $5,000,000 annually for the common schools, *56 no increase of the school term was required. However, the more liberal state aid accompanied by larger tax revenues caused a majority of the districts to lengthen the school year. In 1887 the average length of term for all districts was 6.71 months and in 1895 it was 7.62 months. *57 But many districts retained the shorter term and the state superintendent strongly recommended that the minimum be increased. *58 During the 'nineties, the superintendent apparently refused to face the facts and wrote as though he believed that the principal purpose of the legislature in making larger appropriations was to increase the efficiency of the schools. As we have shown, however, the chief cause of the increased subventions at that time was the desire to relieve the local taxpayers. Naturally, therefore, the legislature refused to take any action, such as increasing the minimum term, that would offset the relief thus provided.
54 Act 19 May, 1887, P.L. p. 139.
56 Act 9 June, 1891, P.L. p. 273.
57 Supt. Public Instruction, Report (1914), p. 616.
58 Report (1890), p. iv; (1891), p. vi.
In 1897, when the proposal to change the method of distribution was before the General Assembly, a bill to increase the minimum term was also introduced. In favor of this proposal it was argued that the larger state appropriation should result in a longer period of schooling for all children. Opposition to the measure came from those who objected to increasing the tax burden of the owners of real estate. *59 It was urged against the bill that, since the additional appropriation had been voted to relieve local taxpayers, a requirement that the poorer districts should maintain schools for seven months would offset that relief.60 In fact, a majority of the objections to the bill centered on the question of increased local taxation. *61 The opposition was strong enough to defeat the measure by a comfortable margin.
59 Mr. Hammond, in the House of Representatives, 23 March, 1897, Legislative Record, p. 916.
60 Mr. Morrow, idem, p. 915.
At the next session of the General Assembly, in 1899, the advocates of the longer school term succeeded in getting the minimum increased to seven months. The precedent established by the acts of 1872 and 1887 was again followed and districts that already levied the maximum tax were exempted from the seven months rule. *62 Although defeated in 1899, those who objected to placing additional requirements upon the districts returned to the fight in 1901. A bill was introduced in the House of Representatives to substitute the old minimum of six months. But the measure had no prospect of success and was indefinitely postponed. *63
61 See statements made in debate, in the House of Representatives, 23 March, 1897, by Martin, McNees, and J. C. Wilson, Legislative Record, pp. 912-913.
62 Act 4 April, 1899, P.L. p. 31.
63 Legislative Record, p. 2339, col. 2. 64 Act 18 May, 1911, P.L. p. 310.