This section is from the "The Subvention In The State Finances Of Pennsylvania" book, by Frederic B. Garver.
In order that a large subvention shall mean better educational opportunities for all the children of the state it must be so distributed that the weaker, or less wealthy districts receive enough aid to enable them to maintain schools that measure up to the minimum standard of elementary educational efficiency. An increase of the subvention will not, therefore, bring about the desired results if the method of distribution is such as to favor the districts that are already able to provide good schools, and to slight those that cannot provide them. To accomplish the best results, to make it possible for all the children to have access to good schools, liberal state aid must be accompanied by a proper method of distribution. *34
34 The most complete treatment of whole question of the distribution of state subventions to common schools is Professor Cubberley's School Funds and Their Apportionment. In this work a number of methods of distribution are explained and criticised.
When the large increases in the subvention to common schools were voted, in the years 1887 to 1893, the method of distributing the appropriation was left unchanged and the districts continued to receive their quotas in accordance with the number of taxables resident within each. Unfortunately, the effect of these increases was, therefore, further to aggravate the inequality of educational opportunities. For this result two causes are assignable. In the first place, the distribution of the subvention was such as to favor the wealthier districts. In the second place, the legislature took no action to compel the districts to use the funds derived by them from the state subvention to increase the efficiency of their schools.
Why the legislature failed to change the basis for distributing the state appropriation is not entirely clear. The method in use made the basis for distribution practically that of the number of inhabitants on the assessment rolls. As early as 1866 it was clearly demonstrated to the General Assembly that this method worked to the disadvantage of the sparsely populated districts.35
In 1884 the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Higbee, made a strong argument in favor of distribution according to the average number of children in attendance. He asserted that the purpose of the subvention was the benefit of the children attending the schools. It followed, therefore, that it should be so distributed that the districts would receive aid in accordance with the number of children they contained. *36 Again, in 1891, Superintendent Waller reported that "The present basis [of distribution] yields so much in the wealthy and populous districts that the tax rate is often two mills, while in sparsely settled districts, where the schools must be kept open for few children widely scattered, the state aid is so small that even with the maximum tax rate of thirteen mills, it is difficult to maintain the schools six months. *37
In the latter report the superintendent seems to have had two points in mind. First, the method of distribution employed favored the populous districts and discriminated against the sparsely settled ones. Second, where the sparsely settled districts were also lacking in taxable wealth, the maximum tax allowable by law did not yield enough revenue to maintain good schools. In wealthy districts, this might not, and probably would not have been true.
The effect of the method of distribution according to taxables was more accurately stated by the superintendent in 1896. In his report for that year, he showed that the method discriminated against those communities that had no industries to hold their adult population and favored those to which the young people drifted as soon as their school days were over. *38 In this statement the effects of the method of distribution are not confused with the results of differences in the taxpaying capacity of the various districts.
35 See a statement by Mr. Householder, in the Senate, 17 January, 1866, Legislative Record, pp. 51-52. In debate in the same house, on the same day, Mr. Bingham of Pittsburgh admitted that distribution according to taxables favored the large cities. Idem, p. 52.
36 "Report (1884), p. xvii.
37 Report (1891), p. vi.
38 Report (1896), p. xxi.