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Bill aiming to curtail teacher seniority clears hurdle in Pa. House

In a bipartisan 16-8 vote, the Pennsylvania House Education Committee has green-lighted a bill that would eliminate state-mandated seniority protections for teachers.

HB 1722, sponsored by State Rep. Tim Krieger, R-Westmoreland, would require districts to base layoffs on a teacher's performance as measured by the state's new teacher evaluation system.

Now, 499 of Pennsylvania's 500 school districts are required to base teacher layoff and recall decisions on the inverse order of seniority, sometimes referred to as "last in, first out."

The Philadelphia School Reform Commission suspended the state code that protects teachers based on longevity. The School District has called on the state Supreme Court to provide a ruling that would affirm that the SRC has the power to make this move.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has petitioned the court to reject the District's position, arguing that work-rule changes should be negotiated at the bargaining table. The union's contract expired at the end of August; since then, negotiations have continued without any signs of progress.

HB 1722 also would allow districts to eliminate staff based on budgetary shortfalls. Aside from Philadelphia, state school districts now can order layoffs only when student enrollment declines or by eliminating specific programs.

Critics of the status quo say this leads many Pennsylvania districts to make wholesale cuts to programs such as art, music and kindergarten when revenues decline.

All Republicans on the education committee voted to advance the bill. Two Democrats --  James Clay, D-Philadelphia, and Jake Wheatley, D-Allegheny -- joined them.

Krieger, the bill's sponsor, said the measure will "protect good teachers and make schools better."

"If you're a young teacher and you're doing a great job, you shouldn't be furloughed because you haven't been there that long," he said.

Read the rest of this story at NewsWorks

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Kevin McCorry

Kevin is WHYY/NewsWorks' senior education writer.