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State legislators hold forum in Pittsburgh to discuss seniority

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“Last-in, First-out” policies harmful to vulnerable students

PITTSBURGH, PA – September 10, 2014 – The Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh and A+ Schools hosted a bipartisan panel of legislators and advocates this evening to discuss changing state rules on school furloughs and seniority. Citing the disparate impact on poor and minority children from the current system, the organizations called for greater flexibility for school districts to minimize inequities.  

Esther Bush, the President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh remarked, “We’re here tonight because in 2012 Pittsburgh Public Schools was forced to knowingly let go of sixteen excellent teachers. The type of teachers that are getting children to learn twice as much in a school year as compared to those that are evaluated as failing. This can’t happen again.”

Citing a Pittsburgh Public Schools’ report from that year that showed that while twelve of the distinguished teachers were able to be rehired off of the furlough list, eleven teachers that had received unsatisfactory ratings also were brought back. “We can’t be quality-blind when it comes to our children,” said Representative Jake Wheatley. “We know how important a great teacher is to our students, especially in schools where our children have the greatest needs. That’s why we’re trying to change state policy to allow flexibility to increase the quality of teachers that we retain,” he added.

Representative Wheatley (D-Pittsburgh) was joined by Representative Seth Grove (R-York) and Representative Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster), who pointed to the ruling in Vergara v. California as another reason for the Commonwealth to take action now. “The judge in Vergara held that quality-blind policies that inequitably distribute grossly ineffective teachers ‘shock the conscience’ and violate students due process rights.  Our current state policy related to furloughs does just that,” Aument said. “We cannot sit idly by and watch schools like some here in Pittsburgh turnover more than half their staff in a single year because they happen to have less senior teachers.”

In addition to discussing the impact Vergara was having on the public’s understanding of how quality-blind policies hurt children, more specific discussion was given to H.B. 1722, a current bill pending before the House that would use the information from the state’s new teacher evaluation system to make decisions about who gets furloughed, while maintaining seniority protections in the event of a tie.

“We think this is a good way to solve the problem Pittsburgh faced over two years ago,” stated Carey Harris, Executive Director of A+ Schools. “While nothing’s perfect, we have to recognize that the current choices we’re making are hurting kids unnecessarily. We want to use the information we have to make better decisions for our children.”

The Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh was founded in 1918 with the shared National Urban League mission of enabling African-Americans to secure economic self-reliance, parity and power, and civil rights. For more information go to

­­A+ Schools is the community advocate and leader for educational equity and excellence in Pittsburgh’s Public Schools. It serves as a community force advancing the highest educational achievement and character development for every public school student. Its core purpose and focus of work is to increase educational equity in Pittsburgh schools. For more information, contact A+ Schools at 412-697-1298 or visit

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