Barely a month into the new academic year, public school districts across the U.S. are already running short of a critical asset: teachers.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have at least some unfilled positions. Because of high attrition rates, U.S. schools must hire an additional 90,000 new teachers every year, but it’s not as if there’s a lack of college graduates with teaching degrees. The U.S. produces plenty. The problem is that there aren’t enough teachers in places (low-income, rural and inner-city districts) and subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) where they’re most needed.

There are market-based ways to address the problem – mainly, offering valuable teachers more money – but the districts most in need of these teachers are usually the least able to afford them. So one solution is for states to provide financial bonuses to qualified teachers willing to move to schools where shortages are most acute. Higher salaries in subjects like math, science and computing would also galvanize more teaching candidates to specialize in STEM subjects and prod experienced teachers to build expertise in those fields.

States also need to make it easier for teachers to relocate to where the jobs are. Only six states grant full teaching privileges to teachers with out-of-state licenses, without extra course work or exams. So teachers rarely cross state lines and are more likely to leave the profession altogether when they do.

The most sensible solution is to create a common teacher-licensing system, under which states would agree to shared standards and recognize credentials earned in other states. A bill in Congress, the Interstate Teaching Mobility Act, would require participating states to honor out-of-state licenses and create a single electronic application process for qualified teachers.

Attracting and retaining good teachers is essential to the success of any school. Giving teachers more freedom to move – and helping the market pay them what they’re worth – will help more students get the education they deserve.

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