Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Furlough bill update

Capitolwire: Republicans appear to link teacher furlough bill to increased education spending.

The article text follows:

Capitolwire: Republicans appear to link teacher furlough bill to increased education spending.

By /cwMailForm.asp? Christen Smith <br>Staff Reporter<br>Capitolwire

HARRISBURG (May 17) - No budget season at the state Capitol would be complete without some horse trading behind the scenes - a tradition that's appeared to be absent from this year's negotiations, in their infancy, thus far. 

That was, until, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, offered a thinly-veiled threat Tuesday should Gov. Tom Wolf veto House Bill 805, as he's promised. 

"I don't advocate for the status-quo, but I can tell you this: If he does veto the bill - and we're going to have a budget done very soon I hope - and the governor is going to want more dollars for education,  well guess what we're going to want, we're going to want this piece of legislation to go along with any new dollars in education," Corman told reporters during a press conference with Republican caucus leaders on the fate of the controversial teacher furlough bill.

Republican leaders have been pressuring Wolf to change his mind about HB 805 cwArticle.asp?articleId=2400518 since it passed the Senate last week.  

The bill, which would base teacher furloughs more on performance, not just seniority, has been characterized by the administration as a misguided attempt to meddle in local-level school board decisions and encourage "mass layoffs."

"This is not the type of policy we should be discussing," said Wolf spokesman Jeff Sheridan via email Tuesday. "We should all be focused on ensuring schools are appropriately funded and students are learning the skills they need to be successful in the 21st century."

The administration's tunnel vision, Republican leaders say, stands in the way of improving school performance. 

"At the end of the day, the discussion on education does not begin and end just with more money," said House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana. "It's part of the discussion, but the discussion cannot just be about the quantity of the dollars provided. We've also got to focus on the quality of the product produced with those dollars and this bill moves us forward in that direction."

Steve Miskin, Reed's spokesman, said it's the same position leadership has held since the bill was introduced last year - increased spending without accountability won't produce the results Wolf and his allies seek.

Jenn Kocher, Corman's spokeswoman, agreed, saying "this is nothing different than what we have been saying for a long time."

But until Tuesday, leaders had not tied that idea to budget negotiations. Now, it appears, HB 805 could be a part of any deal brokered between the administration and the General Assembly, much in the same way pension reform and liquor modernization factored into the failed "framework" of last year's budget. 

Corman stopped short of declaring HB 805 a linchpin, however.

"Look if we get into a budget discussion soon, which we all hope we will, and he doesn't sign this, we're not going to walk away from this," he said. "It's too important to walk away from. It will be like every other piece of the budgetary process negotiation. We do education as part of the budget. This is something we think is very, very important."

"I'm telling you this is something we will be advocating strongly for," he added.

Kocher further clarified Corman's position in an email after the press conference.

"The Senator never said we would not be doing a budget without this measure to protect excellent teachers," she said. "It is not a line in the sand. It's simply a very important issue that can provide reform to a system to ensure that our schools continue to have excellent teachers working with our children."

The Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest teacher's union, chided Republicans for politicizing the bill.

"After a nearly $1 billion school funding cut and 27,000 K-12 jobs lost in the last four years, the Republican leadership in the General Assembly ought to be focusing on how to adequately fund schools and bring class sizes back down instead of trying to get rid of more teachers and making threats to hold Pennsylvania children's education hostage," said PSEA spokesman Wythe Keever.

The criticism doesn't appear to phase the leaders.

"We shouldn't be preserving the job of a low performing teacher and furloughing a high performing teacher merely because one has more seniority over the other," Reed said. "It's a pretty basic concept that I'm pretty sure almost every single parent across this state would agree with."

"The solution for continuing to ensure that we have excellent schools is not simply putting more and more taxpayer dollars into the system," Kocher said. "We must also take a close look at how we can use reforms to improve the system. This bill is a commonsense way to achieve that. We just provided $200 million in additional money for education and throughout that - we were not the ones who were using children as hostages. Far from it."


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