Wolf vetoes teacher layoff bill

Pennsylvania Governor Prostate Cancer
Gov. Wolf has said the state should spend its time investing in improving teachers and performance standards, not paving the way for layoffs.

HARRISBURG - Gov. Wolf on Wednesday upheld his promise to veto a bill that would lessen the role of seniority in teacher layoffs.

The Protecting Excellent Teachers Act, passed this month by the House and Senate, had become a political football. This week, a key Republican in the legislature warned the governor that the issue could resurface in next month's budget negotiations if he vetoed the bill.

Supporters, including the state School Boards Association, said the measure would let districts protect their best teachers by using performance ratings, not seniority, in determining layoffs. The bill also would have let districts lay off solely for economic reasons.

Opponents, including the state's largest public-school teachers union, said the evaluation systems were too new and unproven to be reliable.

Wolf has said the state should spend its time investing in improving teachers and performance standards, not paving the way for layoffs. In his veto message, he noted that the evaluation system was designed to identify a teacher's weaknesses and then provide the opportunity to improve.

"Teachers who do not improve after being given the opportunity and tools to do so are the ones who should no longer be in the classroom," he said. "This is the system we should be using to remove ineffective teachers."

Representatives for Republican leaders said the governor was resisting reform at the same time he wants more funding for education.

"The governor needs to remember he's asking for hundreds of millions of new taxpayer dollars to go to our schools," said Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Majority Leader Dave Reed (R., Indiana). "It's not going to happen without accountability."

The prime sponsor of the bill, Rep. Stephen Bloom (R., Cumberland), said he was disappointed by the governor's action.

"I question whether the governor even took the time to read the legislation before making the hasty decision to rob our kids of the guarantee that they will get to keep their best teachers," Bloom said in a statement.

State Republican Party spokeswoman Megan Sweeney accused Wolf of bowing "to liberal special interests at the cost of kids and their parents."

The head of the teachers union praised the veto.

"Experience matters in public education," Jerry Oleksiak, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said in a statement. "With Gov. Wolf's veto, lawmakers can get back to work on what Pennsylvanians really want - funding our schools and supporting what really helps kids learn."

klangley@post-gazette.com

717-787-2141 @karen_langley

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