HARRISBURG - Pennsylvania public schools would have wider latitude to furlough employees during tough economic times and would not have to start with the least senior workers under proposals that were debated yesterday in the state Capitol.

The House Education Committee gathered input from the School Boards Association, the state's largest teachers union and others about three legislative proposals. A committee vote could occur as early as next month.

Carolyn Dumaresq, Gov. Corbett's acting secretary of education, told lawmakers that the administration supports allowing economic furloughs as well as replacing seniority rules with a system that protects from furloughs those teachers who are ranked as the most effective in the classroom.

"If we are truly committed to graduating students who are college and workforce ready, then we need to ensure that we have a strong teaching staff, teachers whose performance reflect a focus on student achievement," Dumaresq said.

The state does not allow economic furloughs of instructional staff unless enrollment has fallen substantially, schools are consolidated or reorganized, or programs are cut because too few students take certain classes or educational standards have changed.