Licensing restrictions lead to border battles for top talent in teaching, other professions

Morris Kleiner image

This month, the Learning Policy Institute released a report on teaching shortages across the United States. Among its recommendations, the report advocates developing a national supply market for teachers by "removing unnecessary interstate barriers" and enabling teachers to cross state lines for work more easily.

But teaching is far from the only occupation facing this problem. As Upjohn author Morris Kleiner describes in "Border Battles: The Influence of Occupational Licensing on Interstate Migration," occupational licensing rules have expanded dramatically over the past few decades. This not only sets up barriers for entering labor markets, artificially inflates wages in more heavily restricted states, and likely contributes to both shortages and oversupply of workers, it also restricts interstate mobility.

Kleiner gives several examples that, he says, highlight the need to loosen the restrictions imposed by licensing requirements on those who wish to move to another state and continue their careers there.

One such loosening has occurred in the nursing profession. In 1999, the Nurse Licensure Compact was created to allow greater mobility for nurses to work across states. Registered nurses and licensed practical nurses in member states can now work across state lines without having to obtain another license. Research shows this compact widened the labor market and increased the numbers of nurses living in a border metropolitan area who lived in one state and worked in another.

While a few states have reciprocal licensing agreements for teachers, according to Kleiner the teaching profession underscores the need for action to reduce border battles. As a high school principal on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border explained, "We get a lot of qualified applicants from across the river. We can’t keep them, though. They have to go back to their state after their student teaching is over. I think this pool of teachers could fill content gaps" (Arbury et al. 2015, p. 27).


Morris M. Kleiner headshot

Morris M. Kleiner

Visiting Scholar