Wisconsin’s legislature is considering a bill that would broaden teacher reciprocity and help alleviate the major problem of teacher shortages in the state. It would allow Wisconsin to more easily recognize teaching credentials issued by another state.

Many states have some form of teacher reciprocity. However, the type of license/permit issued and the requirements to receive a license vary greatly.

The current teacher reciprocity law in Wisconsin is quite complex and burdensome on would-be teachers. It allows for Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to issue a renewable 5-Year License Based on Reciprocity (Tier I). To obtain this license, a teacher must be licensed, in good standing and have worked in the state they are applying from for a minimum of one year.

Teachers approved for the license are able to teach in Wisconsin for up to five years. During those five years, they must fulfill the requirements for the Out-of-State pathway which includes completing and passing the edTPA, Foundations of Reading Test and Wisconsin Content Tests.  

If a teacher decides not to complete the Out-of-State pathway or renew the License by Reciprocity, they may work to obtain a Provisional Educator License (Tier II). A Provisional license is a three-year renewable license.

If the proposed bill is passed there would be three major changes to teacher reciprocity. First, DPI would have to issue a license if the teacher was licensed out of the state but had taught in Wisconsin “under license or permit for two semesters.” Second, DPI would no longer issue an initial license and instead issue provisional licenses which would allow a teacher to receive a lifetime license to teach in Wisconsin once they “successfully taught for 6 semesters.” Third, DPI would have to issue a provisional license to teach if a person already holds an initial license at the time the bill passes. Basically, the bill would allow out-of-state-licensed teachers to obtain a Wisconsin license without completing additional coursework or taking additional exams.

While some level of teacher reciprocity is common, broad teacher license reciprocity is less so. According to the most recent data we were able to locate, there are six states that initially offer out-of-state teachers a standard teaching license. Most still require a difficult process similar to Wisconsin.

It is tedious enough going through the licensing process once but requiring teachers to do it all over again is a huge hoop to jump through. Moreover, it seems redundant considering teachers do not lose the ability to teach once they cross state borders and content expectations do not vary substantially from state to state.

Creating broad teacher licensing reciprocity is an important move in light of the continuing teacher shortage, both in Wisconsin and around the country. The number of college students seeking teaching degrees has decreased by about 23 percent since 2007.

Districts across the state complain about a decline in the number of applicants for open positions, and an inability to fill spots can lead to increases in class size or teachers being forced to teach outside of their field of expertise. This can have negative implications for student outcomes.

Broader teaching reciprocity is not a silver bullet by any means. Wisconsin experiences stagnant population growth and the current proposal is unlikely to lead to a huge influx of new residents to fill teaching roles. But it can be one important arrow in the quiver of broader efforts in this regard.

Jessica Holmberg is a policy and communications associate with the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.