Proposed law would end seniority-based layoffs for teachers

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HARRISBURG – State Sen. Ryan P. Aument (R-Lancaster) and Rep. Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland) introduced legislation today in the House and Senate to keep Pennsylvania’s best teachers in the classroom and boost student achievement by ending the practice of seniority-based layoffs.

Seniority-based layoffs are dismissals conducted in order of inverse seniority. The last teacher hired is the first person fired, regardless of his or her impact on students.

“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. “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. How well a teacher is helping students learn must be the guiding principle in the unfortunate event of layoffs.”

Senate Bill 5 and companion legislation, House Bill 805, would strengthen the teaching profession and boost student achievement by ensuring school districts use teacher performance to guide furlough and reinstatement decisions. 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.

“While seniority-based dismissal decisions are sometimes touted as fair, in reality they ignore differences in teacher quality and disrupt more classrooms than performance-based layoffs,” Bloom said. “Research demonstrates that under a seniority-based layoff system, the more effective teacher is dismissed roughly four out of five times. The adverse impacts of this ‘last in, first out’ process on teachers and students make eliminating this outdated state law a common sense reform.”

The lawmakers pointed to a 2012 example in Pittsburgh Public Schools, where 16 teachers rated as “distinguished” under the educator evaluation system were furloughed.

In June 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 require seniority to be the sole factor in determining furloughs.

“There has been significant support among voters and our colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass legislation keeping our best teachers in the classroom,” said Bloom. “Senator Aument and I are united in our commitment to reward excellent teachers and end the counterproductive policy of layoffs based strictly on seniority.”

Senate Bill 5 has been referred to the Senate Education Committee and House Bill 805 has been referred to the House Education Committee. The bills have more than 40 bipartisan co-sponsors in the House and Senate.

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