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School Code Bill Is 'A Disappointment' Says Pittsburgh Teachers Union

Matt Rourke
AP Photo
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf takes questions at a Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon in Harrisburg, Pa., Monday, Oct. 30, 2017.

A sweeping school code bill will become a state law without Gov. Tom Wolf's signature. 

In addition to providing funding for public schools, the GOP-penned legislation suspends the traditional seniority rules that dictate furloughing teachers, opting instead to eliminate teachers based on who scores the worst on the state's teacher effectiveness rating.

"We are really, really disappointed in this," said Nina Esposito-Visgitis, president of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers. "School code bills are supposed to allocate funding to the schools. [They] shouldn't be used to make major policy changes."

The rating system, which went into effect in 2013, determines whether a teacher is satisfactory, in part, by their class's standardized test scores. The measure also lets school districts lay off teachers by citing financial distress. Previously, teachers could only be fired if their department was slashed, schools were closed or enrollment declined.

The bill is pretty involved. Read more about its full implications here and here.

Rick Leiner, deputy press secretary for the state House of Representatives Republican caucus, called its passage a historic victory for Pennsylvania students.

Last week, Wolf said he had concerns about the bill, including the new rules on how Pennsylvania schools would handle teacher layoffs.

Wolf is running for re-election next year amid an already crowded field. The Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union at more than 180,000 members, endorsed Wolf in 2014 and credited the governor and its legislative allies for creating language in which "seniority is the determining factor in furlough decisions for the overwhelming majority of educators."

Under the new law, seniority would still rule if teachers have the same rating.

Teacher advocates across the state have said the teacher effectiveness rating is a poor way to judge an educator's worth.

"We consider seniority to be the only fair way to furlough teachers, especially since we're dealing with such a flawed evaluation system," Esposito-Visgitis said.

PSEA opposed the bill from the beginning, according to its website. Wolf named now former PSEA  President Jerry Oleksiak to serve as state secretary of labor and industry in July.