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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2015 - 2016 Regular Session


Posted: February 2, 2015 01:26 PM
From: Senator Ryan P. Aument
To: All Senate members
Subject: Protecting Excellent Teachers
In the near future I plan to introduce legislation to protect excellent teachers here in the Commonwealth.

While Pennsylvania continues to recover from the recession, school districts need and deserve the flexibility to make personnel decisions based on performance. Unfortunately, the Public School Code is clear that when furloughs are permitted, seniority alone dictates what teachers stay and go. 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.

To address this issue, my legislation would protect excellent teachers by requiring school districts to use a teacher’s effectiveness as the deciding factor for who is furloughed; not just their seniority. Further, this proposal will offer mandate relief by clarifying that the Public School Code allows school districts to furlough teachers when budgets make it absolutely necessary.

Thanks to Pennsylvania’s data-driven teacher evaluation system, schools have more performance data at their fingertips to make informed decisions when furloughs are necessary. Through the teacher evaluation system, teachers are rated as one of the following: “Distinguished”, “Proficient”, “Needs Improvement”, and “Failing”. My legislation would ensure teachers rated as “Distinguished” would be the last to be furloughed and teachers rated “Failing” would be the first to be furloughed. And to address the main argument by the opposition, this proposal contains language to protect against the possibility of teacher compensation ever being used as a factor in considering who to furlough.

I understand that experience deserves consideration and I am pleased that my legislation preserves what I believe to be the true intent behind seniority which is to be used as a contributing factor, not the only factor. To that end, within each level on the rating scale from “Distinguished” to “Failing”, the tiebreaker would be seniority for teachers with the same rating.

Across the country, public education is being reformed and antiquated practices are being challenged. In June of 2014, a California Superior-Court judge ruled that the state’s teacher tenure laws, including “last-in, first-out”, were unconstitutional (Vergara v. California). Pennsylvania is now one of only six remaining states that requires seniority to be the sole factor in determining furloughs.

In the Commonwealth, the Basic Education Funding Commission is hard at work designing a new, fair school funding formula. As the General Assembly starts to consider how to more equitably allocate school funding, it’s also essential that we provide the tools to help school leaders maintain an effective workforce and increase student achievement.

If you have any questions, please contact Stephanie Buchanan at 717-787-6709 or sbuchanan@pasen.gov.

Introduced as SB5