Kim Lopez has been a teacher for more than two decades. But as the wife of an Air Force service member, she struggles to maintain her career because of the complex requirements for out-of-state teaching licenses to be recognized. Mrs. Lopez has active licenses in California and Virginia, but she’s relocated nine times and has had to fight through red tape with each move.
When Mrs. Lopez and her husband moved to Utah in 2017, she discovered that she would have to retake several exams and spend more than $700 to transfer her license. Regulators even requested that she submit syllabi from coursework she had completed 20 years earlier to establish her credentials. The process would have taken several months to complete, and Mr. Lopez would likely be transferred again in a few years.
Utah wasn’t enforcing high teaching standards with its stringent out-of-state license requirements. It would have been easier for someone from a different profession to apply for a new teaching license in Utah than it was for Mrs. Lopez to transfer hers. The state’s alternate routes to licensure process allowed individuals with bachelor degrees in other subjects to obtain a teaching license with fewer steps and less time spent. Out-of-state instructors like Mrs. Lopez—who holds a bachelor’s in education—had to take the long, expensive route to certification. Meanwhile, Utah faced a teacher shortage.
In March 2018, Gov. Gary Herbert signed a law that grants reciprocity to military spouses licensed to teach in other states. Mrs. Lopez is now free to teach in Utah, but she’s quick to point out that her struggles are “the typical story” for military spouses around the country. A few states have implemented out-of-state recognition models for military spouses like Utah’s. Some, including Arizona, have started recognizing out-of-state licenses for everyone, military spouse or not. But most states have not. Burdensome occupational licensing laws continue to hurt Americans who lead transient lives, including military spouses.
Between 35% and 50% of military spouses work in fields that require some form of licensure or certification, meaning that every time these couples move across state lines, they need to confront the 50-state patchwork of licensing mandates. That creates a disincentive to serve. As the Defense Department noted in 2012, more than two-thirds of military service members report that their spouse’s career prospects influence their re-enlistment decisions. Licensing is primarily a state issue, but the surplus of red tape threatens military readiness and talent retention—something that falls under Congress’s purview.
To combat these problems, Sens. Tom Cotton and Jeanne Shaheen plan to introduce Thursday the Portable Certification of Spouses Act of 2019, which would allow the Defense Department to enter into cooperative agreements with the Council of State Governments to provide funding for industry associations and licensing boards attempting to set up interstate compacts for specific industries. Many states and industries have expressed interest in establishing compacts, but they lack the funding to do so.
The aid would be modest—capped at $1 million for each compact, with a total estimated cost of $10 million over five years—and could prove critical to the military and its members. If successful, the bill would reduce the strain of regulations for every American who moves to a new state. Once the compacts are up and running, they would apply to anyone, not only military spouses.
It’s important that states and local governments continue to repeal and reform occupational license requirements. In the meantime, Sens. Cotton and Shaheen’s proposal could make the lives of military spouses like Mrs. Lopez much less stressful. It’s the least Congress can do for families that serve.
Image credit: kasha_malasha