Crossing the Border? Exploring the Cross-State Mobility of the Teacher Workforce

Cyrus Grout, Center for Education Data and Research, University of Washington, Bothell
Kristian L. Holden, AIR
Nate Brown, Center for Education Data and Research, University of Washington

A considerable amount of research exists on the mobility of teachers within states, but very little is known about the extent to which teachers move from employment in public schools in one state to another. The issue is important because barriers to cross-state mobility create labor market frictions that could lead both current and prospective teachers to opt out of the teaching profession.

Several features of the teacher labor market make crossing state borders more costly than moving across districts in the same state. Each state has its own licensure procedures and, in most states, a teacher’s level of tenure and seniority are used in important personnel decisions, and a cross-state move generally results in losing seniority. Finally, the majority of teachers are enrolled in traditional defined benefit pension plans, and teachers who split their careers between two (or more) plans earn far less retirement income than if they had stayed in one system.

For this paper, we match state-level administrative data sets from Oregon and Washington and present evidence on patterns of in-service teacher mobility between these two states. We find levels of cross-state mobility that are drastically lower than levels of within-state mobility, even when accounting for proximity to the border. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that there are significant penalties to cross-state mobility that may be attributable to state-specific licensure regulations, seniority rules, and pension structures.