This section is from the "The Subvention In The State Finances Of Pennsylvania" book, by Frederic B. Garver.
In spite of the perpetual war waged upon it by the state superintendent, the method of distribution according to taxables persisted until 1897. The change was slow in coming because of the conflict of interest of the various communities within the state. The more populous counties, such as Philadelphia, resisted interference with the existing order, which was advantageous to them. The representatives of the sparsely settled districts complained that they did not receive enough aid to enable them to keep their schools open for the minimum term. To this the representatives of the cities replied that many of the complaining communities received more from the subvention to schools than they paid in state taxes; that these districts were already more liberally treated than those that paid heavy personal property, license, or corporation taxes to the state; that although Philadelphia raised twice as much by local school taxes as was received from the state, her schools were overcrowded and large numbers of children were forced to attend school only half of the day because of lack of school buildings. To the last point the rural communities rejoined that the difficulty of providing schools in Philadelphia was due to the over-development of the high schools, which absorbed a disproportionate share of the revenues raised for educational purposes. *39 In brief, whenever a proposal to change the basis of distribution came up in the General Assembly the members voted as the interest of their districts dictated,40 and for many years no change was possible.
In 1897 the legislature changed the method of distribution, but not without much resistance on the part of the representatives of the urban districts. One senator argued that since Philadelphia maintained schools for ten months each year she should receive a relatively larger share of the subvention than those districts whose schools were in session for a shorter term. *41 He also argued that any change that would reduce Philadelphia's quota, would interfere with the carrying out of a plan for the betterment of the schools, which that city had adopted, and,-therefore, no such change could justly be made. *42 To these arguments a senator from a rural county replied that "the idea of a pupil in Philadelphia getting seven dollars and ninety-six cents and a pupil in Allegheny getting five dollars and ten cents, and a pupil in that much neglected and adjacent county—Beaver County—getting three dollars and eleven cents is outrageous . . . " *43
39 See Supt. of Public Instruction, Report (1896), p. xxi. 40 Ibid.
41 Mr. Osbourn, 21 April, 1897, Legislative Record, p. 1377.
42 Idem, p. 1376.
43 Mr. Critchfield, in the Senate, 21 April, 1897, Legislative Record, p. 1377.
Probably the strongest pressure for a readjustment of the method of distributing the subvention came from the organization of agriculturists known as the "Grangers. *44 They demanded that some scheme be adopted which would enable the rural communities to have better schools without levying oppressive taxes. Aided by the authoritative opinion of the state superintendent, the representatives of the rural districts succeeded in 1897 in forcing through the legislature a bill which increased materially the proportion received by the country districts. This law provided that after June 1, 1898, one-third of the state appropriation should be distributed on the basis of the number of teachers regularly employed and paid, one-third on the basis of the number of children between the ages of six and sixteen and one-third on the basis of the number of taxables on the assessment roll in each district.45
The effect of this change is difficult to determine. Changing standards for assessing property and lack of definite data for comparing efficiency in the conduct of the schools make conclusions based solely on the statistical reports of the districts hazardous. The opinion of the state superintendent is probably the best evidence at hand. Writing in 1901, four years after the passage of the law, he stated that the distribution of one-third of the appropriation according to the number of taxables still favored the cities and boroughs as against the rural communities; that the distribution of one-third according to the number of children between the ages of six and sixteen favored the urban centers; and that the distribution of one-third according to the number of teachers employed favored the rural districts.46
It is evident that the new scheme was the result of a compromise. The od method of distributing the subvention was undoubtedly retained for onle-third of the appropriation in order not to strike too severe a blow at the vested interests of the larger cities. For this motive no defense can be advanced except as a reason for introducing the change gradually. Distribution according to school population (or that part of it between the ages of six and sixteen years) obviously favored communities that were populous enough to make it possible to place the maximum number of scholars under each teacher. The new method of distribution did nothing, however, to equalize the tax burden between districts containing the same school population but having within their boundaries different amounts of wealth.
44 Yetter, p. 103.
45 Act 15 July, 1897, P.L. p. 271.
46 Report (1901), p. iv.