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Portable licenses are a welcome idea, but probably won’t solve the teacher shortage

Schoolchildren at classroom with raised hands answering teacher's question.
Getty Images/iStockphoto
Schoolchildren at classroom with raised hands answering teacher's question.

Several states are considering legislation that would make it easier for educators to cross state lines and teach in a different state. So far, Utah and Colorado are the only states to sign on to the Interstate Teacher Mobility Compact.

Some proponents, particularly in other states, have argued that increasing mobility will help ease the teacher shortage.

The compact was originally proposed by the Department of Defense in 2020 as a way of helping military spouses who had to move frequently. The DOD later teamed up with the Council of State Governments, along with other organizations, to broaden the compact to include all teachers.

Ten states need to pass legislation to join the compact in order for it to go into effect. If that happens, teachers who have a license in one compact state would be able to teach in another compact state without having to pay to take a test or find old transcripts. Each state would define what is considered an eligible teaching license.

Malia Hite, executive coordinator of educator licensing at the Utah State Board of Education, said each state has its own licensing process for teachers that move across state lines, sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s complex. Hite likes that this compact would simplify things.

For teachers moving to Utah, the compact would get rid of certain testing requirements for teachers that have less than one year of experience. Those tests can be pretty intensive, Hite said, and cost about $225. Teachers coming to Utah would still have to pass a background check.

The compact could also open up options such as online teaching in different states. Another group that could benefit, Hite said, are college students who get their teaching degree in Utah, but move elsewhere after graduation.

State Superintendent Sydnee Dickson and a representative of the Utah Education Association spoke in favor of the compact when it was before Utah lawmakers. Both focused on how it would speed up the process for teachers moving to Utah and limit the hoops they would have to jump through.

Adam Diersing, a policy analyst for the Council of State Governments, said states that have discussed joining the compact have talked about what this could mean for the teacher shortage.

“We would not make the claim that this is a solution to the teacher shortage,” he said.

Teachers are less likely to move to a different state compared to other professions according to a 2017 study. Diersing does not think the compact would incentivize teachers to move, but it could help those who are forced to move because of circumstances unrelated to teaching.

“We know that we're losing some teachers in every state when they move,” he said. “If the barriers to re-license are too high, then we've seen those teachers just leave the profession rather than go through that process to license again.”

University of Utah Economics Professor Eunice Han is in favor of getting rid of limitations on teacher mobility. Han grew up in Korea and saw teachers regularly rotate through certain areas, which she thought was a good system. However, agrees that the idea is not a shortage solution.

“If we weren't able to solve the teacher shortage problem within the state border, why would you believe that opening the border to other states will bring more teachers to this state?”

It’s possible that this compact could have some positive effect on the supply of teachers, Han said, but it’s also possible it could have a negative impact if one district or state is pulling lots of high-quality teachers from another.

“We're not giving them a salary boost, we're not giving them better working conditions, we're not giving them anything they actually want,” Han said. “This is to help teachers who are already teachers if they're thinking about moving.”

While there have been ongoing conversations about the teacher shortage, Hite also believes this isn’t the way to solve the problem.

“Just the sheer numbers of teachers that we're short, we're not going to be able to solve. It isn't like Colorado has too many teachers and they need to go somewhere to get a job. Every state is short teachers.”

Still, Hite is a big fan of the compact, since “it will reduce frustration and reduce the burden on teachers” who already feel defensive.

“And any kind of softball we can throw them, like, I'm here for. And this will do that.”

Martha is KUER’s education reporter.
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