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House of Representatives
Session of 2015 - 2016 Regular Session


Posted: May 25, 2016 12:14 PM
From: Representative Stephen Bloom
To: All House members
Subject: Reintroduction: Protecting Excellent Teachers
In the near future, I plan to reintroduce legislation previously contained in House Bill 805, which will protect excellent teachers by ending the process of seniority-based layoffs. This process – sometimes referred to as “last in, first out” or “LIFO,” is not fair for teachers, nor beneficial for students. As you know, last week Governor Wolf vetoed House Bill 805, commonly known as the “Protecting Excellent Teachers Act,” despite broad public support. In advance of the expected veto, however, House and Senate Republican leaders cautioned Governor Wolf that the protection of quality teachers regardless of seniority would remain an issue in this spring’s budget negotiations. For this reason, I am again sponsoring this important legislation.

Seniority-based layoffs are dismissals caused by a reduction in force and, by law, must be conducted in order of inverse seniority. The last teacher hired is the first person fired, regardless of his or her impact on students. Basing layoff policies on seniority is a disservice to both students and teachers. While seniority is often described as “fair,” it actually ignores differences in teacher quality and disrupts more classrooms and schools than performance-based layoffs. Moreover, seniority-based layoffs disproportionately impact low-income and minority students.

Schools serving primarily low-income and minority families often have higher concentrations of new teachers than more affluent schools. When seniority-based layoffs occur, these schools experience higher teacher turnover and lose many more faculty compared to other schools.

Research demonstrates that under a seniority-based layoff system, the more effective teacher is dismissed roughly four out of five times. We need only look to the Pittsburgh Public Schools, where in 2012, 16 “distinguished” teachers were furloughed because of this outdated state law. While seniority-based layoffs push effective teachers out of the classroom, 11 states – including Pennsylvania – still require seniority to be the sole factor that determines layoffs.

The adverse impacts of LIFO make eliminating this policy common sense. Basing dismissals instead on strong evaluations allows performance – not the number of years served – to determine which teachers should remain in the classroom. A 20-year veteran teacher should and must be kept in a school if he or she is effective, just as a fifth-year teacher should be retained if he or she is effective. How well a teacher is helping students learn must be the guiding principle in the unfortunate event of layoffs.

The opponents of the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act have attempted to justify the Governor’s veto by spreading inaccurate information about the bill:

Myth 1:
Special interests oppose the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act because they believe local districts should be able to furlough as they see fit.

The Facts:
School districts should be able to furlough as they see fit, but currently, school districts cannot furlough teachers for economic reasons.

Currently, school districts which need to reduce staffing for financial reasons are forced to curtail entire programs instead of making more limited furloughs to minimize any impact on students.

School districts support enactment of the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act because it will give districts the very flexibility the special interests claim they should have.

Under current law, the only basis on which a school district can make furlough decisions is seniority, which unfairly penalizes newer teachers.

By contrast, the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act would allow a school district to furlough those teachers scoring below proficient on their evaluations first, before having to use seniority as the basis for furlough decisions.
  • This legislation will have no effect on the vast majority of teachers in the Commonwealth.
  • The latest data on the Department of Education’s website shows that only 0.2 percent of teachers were rated unsatisfactory.

If the goal of the Commonwealth is to recruit and keep the highest quality teachers, this bill would be a step toward achieving that goal.

Why would a young person want to begin a career as a teacher, knowing that he or she will be the first staff member subject to furlough, regardless of performance?

Right now, Pennsylvania is one of only six states to use seniority as the main factor for furlough decisions.

Myth 2:
Special interests have also said the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act would base furlough decisions on “high stakes” testing.

The Facts:
The current teacher evaluation system is made up of multiple measures of teacher performance, including classroom observation, student performance and student growth, as well as local measures designed by individual school districts.
  • The student testing portion of the overall evaluation comprises only a small fraction the building-level score (which itself is only 15 percent of the overall score) and a small fraction of the teacher-specific component (which again is only 15 percent of the overall score).
  • The evaluation system still relies primarily on classroom observation, which comprises 50 percent of the overall score. If a teacher scores high on all other evaluation factors, including observation (which equals 50 percent of the total), there is no way the teacher would be rated below proficient due to test scores alone.

It is also important to note that the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act is a small step toward giving traditional school districts the same flexibility that charter schools already have. Unless a charter school is unionized, a charter school is not subject to the same labor restrictions as a school district. A charter school is free to furlough staff for economic reasons, and can base its furlough decisions on performance, rather than seniority. By giving school districts the ability to furlough for economic reasons, and to begin such furloughs by suspending the lowest-performing staff, the Protecting Excellent Teachers Act helps give school districts this important management tool that charters already enjoy.

Please join me in protecting excellent teachers by cosponsoring this measure.

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Introduced as HB2151