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July 15, 2024 6:41 am

Local News

New Federal Law Will Help Military Personnel, Spouses Surmount NC Teacher Licensing Hurdles

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by Greg Childress, NC Newsline

If the new school year starts like the last, it will begin with a teacher shortage numbering in the thousands. Last fall, the “State of the Teaching Profession” report showed 5,091 vacant teaching positions in North Carolina on the 40th day of school. That was a 58.4% increase over the 3,214 vacancies in the previous year.

And while some analysts and advocates have repeatedly identified issues like low pay and uncompetitive benefits and working conditions as the chief driver of the shortfall, state education leaders hope a provision in a new federal statue will make at least a dent in the problem by making it easier to place more licensed teachers in classrooms. The provision allows military personnel and their spouses to temporarily transfer professional licenses when making a military move.

This month, the State Board of Education (SBE) adopted the provision as part of its licensure policy to allow military personnel or their spouse to teach in North Carolina with an out-of-state educator license. The “Veterans Auto and Education Improvement Act of 2022” also applies to other licensed occupations such as realtors, nurses, cosmetologists and barbers. It doesn’t not apply to law licenses.

State Superintendent Catherine Truitt and lawmakers had been working on a similar state policy, but it became unnecessary after federal lawmakers approved the new provision in January.

The provision could potentially have a big impact in North Carolina, which has nearly 95,000 active-duty military personnel, according to 2022 data from the Defense Manpower Data Center. There are nearly 40,000 active-duty spouses living in North Carolina, according to the DMDC.

“It boiled down to an act that is going to remove some of the barriers in terms of teacher recruitment and teacher hiring because spouses of military personnel that have an active teacher license,” State Board member Olivia Oxendine said during a board discussion last month. “I’m thinking in my area of Fort Liberty [formerly Ft. Bragg] in Cumberland [County] and the other large [military] installations around the state that have spouses who are ready to teach — this is going to make that possible to some extent.”

Fort Liberty is the nation’s largest military installation. Nearly half of the state’s active-duty military personnel are stationed on the base.

Ruben Reyes, Cumberland County Schools’ associate superintendent of human resources, doesn’t think the provision will be a game-changer when it comes to recruiting teachers. It will, however, help military spouses who teach make a smoother transition into North Carolina’s public schools, Reyes said.

“It will hopefully remove some of the red tape to process the new hire and will remove some of the onerous testing requirements from those military connected spouses that are time consuming and expensive,” Reyes said.

There are several hundred military-connected spouses working in the school district, Reyes estimated.

Ken Derksen, Wayne County School’s executive director for community engagement and student and family, agreed that the provision will help make it easier for military spouses to teach in the state by streamlining the hiring process.

“Adoption of the federal policy removes the need for out-of-state teachers who are military connected to go through the state-level teacher licensure process if they want to teach in a North Carolina public school,”’ Derksen said. “Removing the state-level process will allow military connected teachers to immediately go through the Wayne County Public Schools’ hiring process to enter a classroom as a certified teacher.”

Derksen added: “Our district has some attractive schools to teach in, and by easing licensure challenges we are hopeful more teachers who are relocating to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base/Wayne County will apply.”

Here are the conditions a military spouse with an out-of-state teacher’s license must meet to work in North Carolina under the federal provision:

Applicants must provide a copy of the military orders and documentation of marital status (if applicable) to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.Applicants’ licenses from all jurisdictions where they hold a current license must be current and in good standing.The license must have been actively used for employment as an educator during the two years immediately preceding the relocation.The license from the other jurisdiction must be appropriate for the position in which the service member or spouse of the service member will be employed.

Teachers working under the provision will not be issued a North Carolina teacher’s license, but the law authorizes the state to pay them on the North Carolina state teacher salary schedule as if they held a North Carolina license. It remains in effect until the military orders expire or June 30 of that same year, whichever is later.

Military-connected applicants who want a North Carolina educator’s license after the provision expires must meet all state board requirements.

Thomas Tomberlin, senior director educator preparation, licensure and performance for the NC Department of Public Instruction, told NC Newsline in an emailed response to questions that state education officials are optimistic that the new streamlined process will be well received.

“This provision for military personnel will undoubtedly have significant impact on certain districts in the State (e.g., Cumberland, Onslow, etc.) and less impact for districts that are further away from a military base,” Tomberlin said. “It is important to note that most educators that are licensed in another state will qualify for a North Carolina license. The challenge for out-of-state folks is that they have to provide documentation for the North Carolina license beyond a current license from another state (e.g, transcripts, documentation of EPP [Education Preparation Program] completion, testing records, etc.).”

Tomberlin told the state board last month that more than 90% of military-connected spouses with out-of-state teacher licenses would qualify for a North Carolina license. When North Carolina doesn’t have a comparable license to the one held by the military spouse, he said, the state will find one that is comparable to allow the applicant to teach.

The state board adopted the federal provision with little discussion. A month earlier, however, there was a robust conversation about the provision during the board’s monthly meeting.

SBE Chairman Eric Davis asked if the state could grant non-military spouses relocating to North Carolina the same courtesy.

“I just know we have so many situations where principals and superintendents have someone in the classroom that doesn’t even come close to being licensed,” Davis said. “At least this approach more of a licensed [educator in the classroom]. I understand that’s the tension that we’re facing in upholding standards and having teachers in the classroom.”

Tomberlin said that as long as the applicant met the statutory requirements, the state board could grant them licenses to teach in the state.

“It has been our experience in the past that the board has not elected to go down that route — that they wanted to continue to maintain the North Carolina standards,” Tomberlin said. “Basically, what this would be is just license reciprocity. As long as you have license from another state that is current and valid, we would accept that as the mechanism for issuing you a North Carolina license.”

NC Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. NC Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Rob Schofield for questions: Follow NC Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.