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Bill Addresses Education Needs During COVID-19 Emergency

The bill ensures that all school employees will continue to be paid while schools are closed. (Jazmine/Adobe Stock)
The bill ensures that all school employees will continue to be paid while schools are closed. (Jazmine/Adobe Stock)
March 27, 2020

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Legislation to protect students and adapt curriculum during the COVID-19 pandemic has cleared the General Assembly.

The closing of schools across the state to stop the spread of the coronavirus is having an unprecedented impact on Pennsylvania's public-school system.

Chris Lilienthal is the assistant director of communications for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the union representing teachers and school staff. He says a bill that cleared both houses of the state Legislature on Wednesday will help schools switch to online instruction and enrichment programs.

"So teachers will be able to continue doing what they do best - teaching," says Lilienthal. "Students can continue to learn and everyone can stay healthy and safe."

The bill also waives instructional-day requirements and ensures that school employees will continue to be paid while schools are closed. Governor Tom Wolf is expected to sign the bill into law.

And Lilienthal points out that the bill requires the state Department of Education to apply for a federal waiver from PSSA and Keystone Exam testing in 2020 as well as authorizing a waiver of exams for career- and technical-education students.

"What we want to prioritize is making sure that those students continue to learn and not have the burden of a standardized test that they may not be as prepared for through no fault of their own," says Lilienthal.

Lilienthal adds that the COVID-19 provisions were amended into Senate Bill 751, which also makes important reforms to Pennsylvania's teacher-evaluation system.

"Placing a greater emphasis on direct observation of an educator's professional practice and reducing the impact of student standardized testing," says Lilienthal. "And that's really important for educators and for students, quite frankly."

He says that reform also will help account for the impact of poverty on student achievement.

Disclosure: Pennsylvania State Education Association contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Early Childhood Education, Education, Livable Wages/Working Families. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA