MEMO: Why Governor Wolf Will Veto House Bill 805

May 10, 2016

To: Interested Parties
From: Sarah Galbally, Secretary of Policy and Planning
Subject: Why Governor Wolf Will Veto House Bill 805
Date: May 10, 2016

For months, Governor Wolf and the Department of Education have sought input on how to improve accountability in education, and the governor continues to believe that our common goal should be working together to invest in education, strengthen accountability, and place more educators in overcrowded classrooms to provide our children with the attention they deserve and the tools they need.

Governor Wolf is Working to Improve Accountability, Move Away From High-stakes Testing

Governor Wolf agrees that we need to have accountability in education, which is why Department of Education Secretary Pedro Rivera has been traveling the commonwealth engaging with stakeholders including educators, parents, lawmakers, administrators, higher education faculty, and industry and workforce leaders to determine how best to measure success in the classroom and how to increase accountability.

The governor is committed to creating a system for both children and educators that is holistic and prepares our students for higher education and the workforce, not one that relies solely on high-stakes testing. In fact, recently, the governor and legislature worked in a bipartisan manner to delay the Keystone exams due to problems that arose from using these tests to determine graduation eligibility.

We should not apply that same high-stakes testing to our educators. Already, problems have arisen from a teacher evaluation system that many feel is inconsistent, and was not designed to determine mass layoffs.

HB 805 Draws Too Heavily From Failed High-stakes Testing to Determine Teacher Quality

HB 805 relies heavily on this relatively new and untested evaluation system, as well as other categories like economic considerations. This is unnecessary given the tools districts already have at their disposal and it has the potential to remove some of our best educators from the classroom, especially during difficult budget times created by Harrisburg.

At a time when there is bipartisan agreement that we need to reduce our reliance on this type of testing, we should not use these scores as a benchmark for teacher quality.

Schools Already Have the Tools to Evaluate Teachers

Furthermore, the school code already provides tools for districts to get rid of underperforming teachers based on teacher evaluations. And as a result of funding cuts, districts already are forced at times to layoff educators. We saw this happen after the 2011-12 budget cut $1 billion from our schools.

In 2012 a new teacher evaluation system was created to measure teachers on multiple measures of student success. Teachers who did not achieve satisfactory scores across the multiple measures would lose any protection from seniority that they had. This evaluation process was created to identify teachers’ weaknesses and then provide teachers with the opportunity within the same school year to be coached, mentored and improve their teaching.

The focus of our policies should not be on how to conduct mass layoffs – it should be about how to invest in our schools.

Let’s Focus on Investment and Achievement 

Over the last several years, due to inadequate funding, schools were forced to lay off tens of thousands of educators. We have still not recovered from these devastating cuts, and without further investment in our schools, we could face even more layoffs, program cuts, and higher property taxes.

Governor Wolf has proposed historic investments in our schools that will help schools, students, and teachers succeed. The governor is committed to working with members of both parties in the legislature to make these investments and pair increased funding with an accountability program that is bipartisan.

Move Toward Bipartisan Accountability and Evaluation 

The governor will continue working with the legislature to develop a comprehensive accountability system that ensures our children are learning the skills they need to succeed and educators are qualified and accountable, but House Bill 805 was passed before any real development and standards can be applied across the board. We should be focused on real accountability in our schools, ensuring resources are used in the classroom, adequately training teachers, and providing a real solution to improving our education system.

The governor is committed to greater accountability in our schools. We should be working together to create a wide-ranging system, not reliant on testing, but one that focuses on real, proven strategies to prepare our students and measure teacher effectiveness. The governor believes House Bill 805 was passed prematurely, and in a standalone fashion that does not address the broader issues at play with our evaluation and testing systems.

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