This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
The Pennsylvania school code says teacher layoff decisions can only be based on who has the least seniority.
The Republican-held General Assembly passed a bill this week to change that, but it’s facing a veto pledge from Gov. Wolf.
The bill does two main things. It changes the conditions under which layoffs can happen and it changes which teachers should be laid off.
It allows districts to make layoff decisions based on budget shortfalls. Right now they can only lay off teachers when enrollment drops, when whole academic programs are cut, or when schools consolidate.
Opponents of the status quo say this forces districts to make decisions more in the interest of teachers than students.
The bill also says that teachers rated as "failing" by the state’s new teacher evaluation framework should be the first let go if layoffs are needed.
Seniority would still be the law of the land among teachers with the top two ratings, "distinguished" and "proficient."
"This is common sense," said Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre). "Right now it’s strictly seniority. And so whether you’re the best teacher or not, seniority dictates who stays and who goes. It’s last in, first out."
The bill passed the Senate this week with the support of most Republicans. All Democrats opposed it. It passed the House last summer with the same dynamic.
Wolf has promised a veto, saying he supports seniority protections.
"I think, on the whole, it’s a fair and just way to look at education," Wolf said. "I think teachers want to do a good job, and I think they want to be treated fairly. And I think if they’re treated fairly, they treat their students and the communities they serve fairly."
The bill’s sponsors, Rep. Stephen Bloom (R-Cumberland) and Sen. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster) are holding a rally in the capitol Thursday morning in hopes of changing Wolf’s mind.