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Pennsylvania Bill Would Tie Teacher Layoffs to Performance, Not Seniority

November 4, 2017

A bill in the Pennsylvania General Assembly would end the practice of automatically laying off teachers in order of seniority and instead require districts to rely on state evaluations.

House Bill 178, the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act, sponsored by state Rep. Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland), would use the existing statewide teacher evaluation system to determine teacher performance for use in layoff decisions. When furloughs occur, performance would take precedence over seniority. In the case of even performance ratings, seniority would determine which teacher is retained.

The state Senate passed the bill in late July, and in late August the bill was pending House approval of the Senate’s changes.

Protecting the Best Teachers

James Paul, a senior policy analyst at the Commonwealth Foundation, says HB 178 is about retaining the best teachers.

“Rep. Bloom’s bill protects those rated ‘distinguished’ and ‘proficient’ by the state’s teacher evaluation tool, [over] those rated ‘needs improvement’ and ‘failing,’” Paul said. “Pennsylvania students deserve more than the longest-serving teachers; they deserve the best teachers.

“No one is happy when a teacher has to be furloughed,” Paul said. “But there are instances when this is necessary. In these cases, the most effective teachers should be retained, not merely the teachers with the most seniority. Seniority reform would protect excellent teachers and help ensure that every child in Pennsylvania’s public schools has a great teacher in the classroom.”

Making Smart Cuts

Bloom says his bill focuses on making smart cuts.

“Under current, archaic state law, such districts can only reduce faculty headcount by closing entire schools or cutting entire programs, based strictly on inverse order of seniority, often forcing the layoff of top-performing teachers while keeping lower-performing teachers with more seniority in the classrooms,” Bloom said.

Uphill Battle

Paul says the legislation still has a long way to go to become law.

“Part of passing a state budget in Pennsylvania involves passing an Education Code, which is legislation pertaining to several education issues,” Paul said. “In July, the state Senate passed an Education Code with language from Rep. Steve Bloom’s HB 1495, which would protect high-performing teachers in the event of furloughs. Before the Code becomes law, it must be agreed to by the House and signed by the governor, neither of which has happened yet.”

The reform passed the House and Senate in 2016, and Gov. Tom Wolf (D) vetoed it. Now, packaged as part of the Education Code, the bill is more likely to pass into law, Paul and Bloom say.

“Because seniority reform was amended into the Education Code, and not passed as a standalone bill, there was less opposition this year than in the past,” Paul said. “But teachers’ unions are strongly opposed to the bill, and they are lobbying to have it removed from the code. This year’s effort at seniority reform has a better chance of passage than in previous years, but it will still be challenging to overcome fierce opposition from teachers’ unions and a governor who previously vetoed the legislation.”

“There was strong opposition from the teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers, and the Pennsylvania State Education Association,” Bloom said. “Because the bill is now embodied in an omnibus code bill, there is a reasonable chance the governor will sign it once we move it to his desk, because there are other important priorities addressed in the same legislation.”

Ashley Bateman (bateman.ae@googlemail.com) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.

Official Contact:

Pennsylvania Rep. Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland): http://www.repbloom.com/
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Education
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Ashley Bateman writes from Alexandria, Virginia.
bateman.ae@googlemail.com

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