Teaching Profession

It Could Get a Whole Lot Easier to Teach in a Different State

Teachers who move states now face new license hurdles
By Madeline Will — March 27, 2023 5 min read
Illustration of a 3D map with arrows going all over the states.
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Teachers have long complained about how burdensome it is to cross state lines and maintain their licenses. Only a handful of states don’t require incoming teachers to take additional coursework or assessments.

A new effort, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, is seeking to cut some of the red tape. The Interstate Teacher Mobility Compact would create full reciprocity among participating states—meaning that as long as a teacher has a bachelor’s degree, completed a state-approved program for teacher licensure, and has a full teaching license, they can receive an equivalent license from another state.

The compact will go into effect when 10 states agree to take part. So far, two—Colorado and Utah—have signed on, and legislation is pending in 15 other states, meaning the compact could be enacted by the end of the spring legislative session.

There’s been a lot of momentum from states on this issue, in part because of challenging teacher shortages in some subjects and areas, said Sharmila Mann, a principal at the Education Commission of the States, which contributed to the development of the compact.

There’s “a need for highly effective teachers but also the desire not to lose highly effective teachers,” she said. “Many teachers who are experienced or high quality leave the profession when they leave the state because it’s so onerous to get a new license.”

A tool for addressing teacher shortages

The Defense Department partnered with the Council of State Governments and the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC) to develop the compact, with contributions from a dozen education and state legislative groups, including the National Education Association.

The DOD began pursuing the initiative a few years ago to help military families, who move every two to three years, said Adam Diersing, a policy analyst for the Council of State Governments. It’s common for military spouses to teach, and maintaining their licenses from state to state can present significant cost and time barriers, he said.

The compact agreement will waive the requirement that participating teachers must have a full, unencumbered license for military spouses. Since they move so often, they can use a temporary or provisional license and still be eligible for reciprocity.

(The bachelor’s degree requirement will be waived for career and technical education teachers, who are often able to be licensed without such a degree.)

While the compact started with a focus on military spouses, the goal has broadened to capture teachers who cross state lines for any reason. “States have certainly been discussing this as a tool for addressing parts of the teacher shortage,” Diersing said.

The compact could also make it easier for teachers to teach online in multiple states, Mann said. Now, those teachers have to get certified in every state—but under the mobility compact, they would only have to maintain one license.

States that join the compact can choose which teaching licenses are part of the agreement. For example, one state might decide that it will have full reciprocity for incoming world-language teachers but not elementary teachers. Another state might have full reciprocity for all teachers.

Either way, participating states must be “super clear” about which licenses are eligible, making the process for teachers easier to both understand and navigate, Mann said.

The compact’s goal is to be transparent and streamlined

Eight states already offer full teacher-license reciprocity, according to an ECS analysis: Arizona, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, and Oklahoma.

But because those states crafted their policies independently, there are some variations in the rules to achieve reciprocity. For example, Arizona will grant teaching licenses to out-of-state teachers, but those teachers must hold a fingerprint clearance card, which is the equivalent of a criminal background check. That is not the standard in every state. If Arizona were to join the teacher-mobility compact, it would have to drop the fingerprint requirement for any licenses it chose to include in the compact’s reciprocity agreement, Mann said.

And a state’s policies are often obscure or buried in the education department website, so teachers have to do a lot of digging to understand if they qualify to get an approved teaching license, she added.

“The compact is a way for real transparency,” Mann said.

Another effort in the past for teacher-licensure reciprocity has been the interstate agreement from NASDTEC. However, that agreement does not provide full reciprocity—states can still require incoming teachers to complete additional coursework or tests. Also, states didn’t sign on through legislation, so that agreement doesn’t have teeth behind it.

The Interstate Teacher Mobility Compact is a contractual, enforceable agreement—if a state doesn’t adhere to the terms, there would be significant legal ramifications, Mann said. The compact will be governed by the participating states through the compact commission.

How long will it take for the compact to become a national reality?

Diersing said it often takes multiple legislative sessions for enough states to sign on to a licensure compact so that it takes effect. But there is real momentum for the teacher compact this year: In at least three states—Kansas, Oregon, and Washington—bills have already passed one chamber of the legislature.

Once the compact officially becomes active, that will likely spur even more states to join, Diersing said. But having all 50 states sign on might take a long time.

While there are many active professional licensure compacts, mostly in the health-care field, none of them has full state participation, Diersing said. The largest one is the nurse-licensure compact, which was enacted in 2000 and has 37 participating states. Still, new states regularly sign on—legislation to join the nurse-licensure compact is being considered in nine additional states this year.

Shannon Holston, the chief of policy and programs for the National Council on Teacher Quality, which contributed to the development of the compact, said she’s excited about this approach to keeping experienced, qualified teachers in the field. Restricting eligibility to only those teachers who have full licenses—rather than those who have emergency or provisional credentials—is a key component to safeguard quality, she said.

Participation in the compact also might be a “good push” for states to ensure that their licensing test is strong and shares commonalities with other states’, Holston said. She added that it’ll be important to track and study the data on how many teachers apply for licensure through the compact and in which certification areas.

“We do want to make sure that we keep the end goal in mind: making sure that students have great teachers in front of them every day,” she said.

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