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Published in Print: November 6, 2002, as Regional Teaching License Pushed for 2003

Regional Teaching License Pushed for 2003

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The day when a new teacher in Virginia holds a teaching license that is accepted without hassle in Delaware may be less than a year away.

High-level representatives from Delaware, the District of Columbia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia are pounding out an unusual proposal that would allow aspiring teachers in those jurisdictions to seek a regional teaching license.

If all goes well, the voluntary credential would be offered sometime in 2003, said Diana W. Rigden, the vice president of the Council for Basic Education, the Washington-based nonprofit organization that is managing the Mid-Atlantic Regional Teachers Project.

Any changes in state codes, however, would first have to be approved by the governance body that oversees teacher licensure in each state, which typically is the state board of education or the legislature. The aim of the project is to increase teacher mobility and improve retention in the field to address teacher shortages.

"If we can get a commonly accepted license between these particular states with no additional requirements, we're going to be doing something other organizations have tried to get accomplished for 40 years but haven't been able to get done," said Ken Bungert, the director of academic credentials and standards for the District of Columbia.

Currently, educators who move from one state to another are required to apply for an additional license in the new state, no matter how many years of experience they have in the field. With few exceptions, they must take one or more standardized tests costing anywhere from $50 to $175 to obtain the new licenses.

National Effort

The interstate initiative is one piece of a larger project to develop regional licensure and pension systems throughout the United States, said Charles Coble, the executive director of the Education Commission of the States Teacher Quality Policy Center. The organization provided a $10,000 grant to the Mid-Atlantic group in conjunction with the Denver-based State Higher Education Executive Officers.

The ECS and SHEEO provided an additional $48,000 to build such agreements in the South and the Northeast. No states in those regions have implemented reciprocity pacts similar to those being hammered out in the Mid-Atlantic area.

But, while reciprocal licensure for new teachers and their more seasoned counterparts is desirable, it could create new problems.

"One negative is that the counties contiguous to us in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey by and large pay more than Delaware," said Pamela Nichols, a spokeswoman for the 10,000-member Delaware State Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association. "So, should all of this happen, we should see an exodus [of teachers]."

Policy Hurdles

Historically, states have not seriously considered full reciprocity for teachers because it has seemed too complicated, Mr. Bungert said.

For one thing, state officials wanted to set their own standards for educators, and maintain their own pension programs.

Moreover, licensure and pensions are directly linked, Mr. Bungert explained, because teachers receive pensions in the states where they are credentialed. State boards invest teachers' savings and the pension contributions from their employers on their behalf, and do not easily allow teachers to transfer policies from one state to another.

Teachers also are generally required to stay in the pension plans up to 10 years before they can take ownership of the money the plans have generated, and are typically required to pay upwards of thousands of dollars when they cash out early. Educators also are taxed on any earnings.

That's not all that's at risk: Teachers lose their seniority if they take jobs outside the state where they reside, or move out of the state altogether. That means they earn substantially less on the pay scale and have less flexibility choosing where they teach.

Such policies are major obstacles for many teachers throughout the nation who want to move across state lines, yet feel constrained by state regulations, Mr. Coble said.

Worst of all, perhaps, is that many leave the field altogether when they move because staying in the classroom would mean paying high fees and taxes to cash in their pensions as well as accepting lower pay.

State officials have become cognizant of such challenges and are interested in creative ways to draw teachers to their schools from other states, Mr. Coble said.

Lack of reciprocity "is a huge barrier," to attracting people to classrooms especially in places such as Delaware, where teacher-preparation programs don't produce enough prospective educators to meet the need, said Ms. Nichols. "Any effort to make teaching more attractive ... would certainly help."

Promising Effort

The Mid-Atlantic initiative began with reciprocity for new teachers because it was the easiest policy to tackle, said Thomas A. Elliott, the assistant superintendent for teacher education and licensure for the Virginia education department and a member of the group drafting the plan.

Most of the states and the District of Columbia have similar licensure requirements for beginning educators, which makes it easier to draft across-the-board credentialing requirements, he said. Moreover, those rookies have not committed to state pension plans.

The local representatives to the consortium—four education department officials and the leader of a nonprofit group in Pennsylvania—hope to vote on universal standards for all new teachers this month.

The group hopes to take up reciprocity for midcareer and veteran educators, as well as the thorny issue of pension portability, at a later date, Mr. Elliott said.

Teachers like Alton Bailey Trueman can't wait for that to happen.

The Baltimore middle school guidance counselor has spent 15 years in the field and wants to relocate to Delaware, where he's renovating a beach house. Yet, he can't stomach the penalties of a move.

"I'm 51 years old ... and not in any way interested in starting over again," Mr. Trueman said.

Meanwhile, no one is predicting that it will be easy to persuade states to overhaul both their licensure and pension regulations.

The pension issue requires "dealing with another whole set of governance bodies," Mr. Bungert said. "You'd have to overhaul the entire state pension system, and depending on the state, that would be a major obstacle."

Others wonder if opening the door to full reciprocity would significantly ease teacher shortages.

"This would be one less hurdle, but I don't know that it would do anything to bring us more teachers," said Barbara Goodman, a spokesman for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

Improving salaries and working conditions would be a much more effective approach, she said. In fact, some teachers might leave Philadelphia if their Pennsylvania licenses were recognized by other states, thus worsening the city's personnel problems, she said.

"There's always a concern in urban school districts," Ms. Goodman said, "about not being able to remain competitive with neighboring school districts that have more money and better working conditions."

Vol. 22, Issue 10, Pages 19-20

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