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Bills aim to protect Pennsylvania’s best teachers

By   /   March 18, 2015  /   News  /   No Comments

By Evan Grossman | Watchdog.org

Twin bills seek to eliminate the fat-cat mentality protecting weak Pennsylvania teachers from layoffs because they’ve been on the job longer than some of their more talented peers.

Pennsylvania House of Representatives

HIGH STANDARDS: Rep. Stephen Bloom, R-Cumberland, introduced HB805, which aims to reform teacher tenure and furlough policies.

Sen. Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster, and Rep. Stephen Bloom, R-Cumberland, this week introduced double-barrelled legislation that aims to protect effective teachers who, under current school laws, may be subject to layoffs despite outstanding performances in the classroom.

“Unfortunately, the Public School Code is clear that when furloughs are permitted, seniority alone dictates which teachers stay and go,” Aument said. “This illogical mandate has inevitably resulted in the removal of some of the best and brightest teachers across the state, which is not only unfair to all those in the teaching profession but to children, as well.”

Senate Bill 5 and House Bill 805 would ensure school districts use teacher performance to guide decisions on furloughs and reinstatements. Layoffs are governed by a “last in, first out” policy in Pennsylvania, placing less experienced educators in danger of losing their jobs amid budget cuts while more senior teachers, who may not be as good, keep theirs.

“The adverse impacts of this ‘last in, first out’ process on teachers and students make eliminating this outdated state law a common sense reform,” Bloom said.

Under the proposed laws, performance ratings would be determined using the statewide educator evaluation system, under which observed educators are assigned a rating of distinguished, proficient, needs improvement or failing. Seniority would serve as the tiebreaker between educators up for review.

“Teachers are the single-most important asset in a school district, yet when layoffs occur, Pennsylvania law makes it difficult for leaders to keep their best teachers,” said Jonathan Cetel, director of the Pennsylvania Campaign for Achievement Now, a school advocacy organization.

Pennsylvania State Senate

REWARDING EXPERIENCE: Sen. Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster, wants teachers to be judged on their classroom performance and not just their seniority.

Last year’s Vergara v. California decision ruled teacher tenure laws and the “last-in, first-out,” policy unconstitutional. One of six states in the country that base personnel decisions solely on seniority, “Pennsylvania is telling families that outdated work rules are more important than the quality of teaching in the classroom,” Cetel said.

In addition to cracking down on seniority-based layoffs, the bills propose increasing time it takes to earn tenure from three to five years.

“Every Pennsylvania student deserves to share the classroom with an excellent teacher, and it is our responsibility to support policies that not only identify, reward and protect our best teachers, but also give school districts the flexibility to right the financial ship without negatively impacting the quality of their schools,” Aument said.

Similar legislation was introduced last year as HB1722, but it died in September.

Teachers unions have opposed tenure and furlough reform. Neither the Pennsylvania Education Association nor the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers responded to requests for comment on the bills introduced this week.

Senate Bill 5 has been referred to the Senate Education Committee; House Bill 805 has been referred to the House Education Committee.

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Evan was formerly a Pennsylvania-based education reporter for Watchdog.org.