- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a bill that would allow public schools to factor in performance when laying off teachers and to cut staff during hard economic times.

The House voted 100-91 to approve the bill and send it to the Senate. Supporters of the measure said the changes would help keep the most talented educators in the classroom, even though they don’t happen to have the most seniority.

The bill would eliminate the requirement that only seniority may be considered when teachers are furloughed, according to House officials.

The proposal also would allow the suspension of professional employees for economic reasons, except for teachers who receive the top “distinguished” rating on two of their last three evaluations. Superintendents could defer tenure from three years to four if more time is needed to certify a teacher’s work as satisfactory.

Pennsylvania is one of only six states that uses seniority as the sole factor in teacher furloughs, said Rep. Stephen Bloom, R-Cumberland, the bill’s sponsor.

Democratic critics said the bill relies too heavily on a 2-year-old teacher performance system in determining which teachers should be furloughed.

Rep. James Roebuck Jr., D-Philadelphia, the ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee, questioned why seniority should be phased out as the benchmark for Pennsylvania educators when it plays such a central role in the operation of the Legislature.

“If it’s wrong for teachers, why is it right for us?” he asked.

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