Interstate compact could bring out-of-state teachers to fill Kansas vacancies, state board hesitates

(The Sentinel) – An interstate compact that would recognize teacher licenses from other states and alleviate the classroom instructor shortage is stalled in the Kansas State Board of Education.

Members have been discussing the Interstate Teaching Mobility Compact for a year but took no vote at their recent meeting amid concerns the agreement would allow less-qualified teachers in Kansas classrooms. Commissioner Randy Watson warns that the Legislature may authorize joining the compact on its own if the BOE does not act.

The goal of the ITMC is stated on its website:

“This compact will create reciprocity among participant states and reduce the barriers to license portability and employment.”

The agreement is legally binding and proposes to remove some licensure and assessment requirements for teachers to receive Kansas licenses. Teachers wishing to teach in another state would still need to meet all requirements to receive a license in their home state, such as a full bachelor’s degree. Each candidate would also undergo the customary background check, and any disciplinary action taken against them would be considered.

The ITMC is a product of the efforts of various groups in the education field, including the Council of State Governments, organizations of school principals and administrators, the National Education Association, and the National Governors’ Association.

No states have officially joined the interstate compact, but Kansas border states of Nebraska and Oklahoma have legislation pending this year, as do Washington and Mississippi.

Despite a shortage of 1,600 classroom instructors at the beginning of this school year and declining test scores in reading and math, Kansas NEA President Sherri Schwanz is concerned about the qualifications of out-of-state instructors.

“Unfortunately, not all states require the same rigor for training professional educators. Allowing those with lesser training to simply migrate to Kansas and receive a license sets up a condition that risks quality instruction for Kansas students.”

Attorney and former Kansas Speaker of the House Mike O’Neal disputes that conclusion:

“The so-called rigorous teaching standards in Kansas are not getting the job done. How are our standards any more rigorous or special than those of other states? What is risking quality instruction for Kansas students is the status quo. As Commissioner Watson points out, if the KSBOE (Kansas State Board of Education) isn’t willing to grant reciprocity, the Legislature could and should.”

The National Council on Teacher Quality is rather critical of teacher preparation programs at most universities in Kansas.  A 2020 analysis found that most Kansas teaching programs do not effectively teach the science of reading, and last year NCTQ said teacher training lacks a commitment to math instruction.

Additionally, reading proficiency is at an all-time low, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress while per-student spending set another record at nearly $17,000 last year.

Ward Cassidy, longtime educator, former state lawmaker, and the executive director of the Kansas School Board Resource Center, urges the state board to act to join the ITMC.

“Kansas needs teachers.  Every state needs teachers. When I was a young principal, we would have fifty or more applicants for most jobs.  Now most districts are begging for warm bodies to sit in classrooms.  Districts are forced to hire teachers they know they are taking a chance on.  The interstate compact would allow teachers from out of state to be able to interview for open positions.  Administrators and Boards of Education would still have the final say as to the quality of the candidate and whether or not to hire.  Kansas students would benefit.

“I am not sure why the State Board of Education would not be endorsing this as soon as possible. If they are concerned that other states’ teaching standards are not high enough, they should look at what we are putting in classrooms now. I would hope they would be looking at every possible solution for change.  What we have now is not working!  Do what is best for kids – not organizations.”