Reform

Teacher, Military Spouse Uses Law to Improve Employment Options

Nov. 1, 2019 | BY C. Todd Lopez

After moving to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, with her Air Force officer husband, Brianna McKinnon learned just how hard it is to be a professional and a military spouse. 

She also learned how working with state government can make a difference.

''I knew there would be difficulties,'' McKinnon said of her family's move. ''I thought I was prepared to handle them, but I could not have anticipated the amount of issues there would be.''

A man and woman wearing helmets stand outdoors in front of a tree. The tree has wooden platforms and ladders attached to its trunk.
Zipline Couple
Air Force 1st Lt. Monte McKinnon and his wife, Brianna, went “zip lining” in Ohio for their fifth wedding anniversary in 2018. Brianna McKinnon worked with an Ohio lawmaker to develop a bill that would help military spouses transfer licenses and credentials from other states into Ohio.
Photo By: Courtesy of Brianna McKinnon
VIRIN: 191028-O-ZZ999-003

McKinnon has a bachelor's in elementary education with an emphasis in special education that she earned while living in Spokane, Washington. At the time, her husband attended engineering courses for the Air Force.

In 2017, the Air Force moved the couple to Ohio, and Brianna was able to work as a teacher there for just a year using a temporary license. To work longer, she'd need to get a permanent licence in the state -- which proved more difficult than she thought.

McKinnon said Ohio required her to complete three exams, which cost $150 each. She said that was something she could have done, but there was more.

''The killer was I had to enroll in an Ohio college and take a phonics class,'' she said. This would have cost $2,000 to take the course and required that she attend a semester of school. ''I'm already completing my master's degree right now,'' she said.

Without meeting certification requirements for teaching in Ohio, she wouldn’t be able to work at all, she said. And that wouldn't just be in Ohio. Every state has different requirements for teachers, and each time the family moved, she'd have to recertify in the new state.

Meeting new certification requirements with each military move is just one of the challenges spouses face with professional careers.

''Certification is huge,'' McKinnon said. ''Another big problem is pay for military spouses. We often get a large amount of pay cuts from where we move to and from because we are starting from the bottom. Also, a lot of it is [that] as you become an adult, getting a job is based on who you know and not what you know. So, we moved to a state where we know no one. So, it is starting from scratch every single time, in a lot of ways.''

An adult man and woman, and a small child stand next to each other behind a wooden desk. The child holds a gavel.
Gavel Girl
Rick Perales, a lawmaker in Ohio, Brianna McKinnon and Reese McKinnon meet in Perales’ office. Perales and McKinnon worked to develop a bill that would help military spouses transfer licenses and credentials from other states into Ohio.
Photo By: Courtesy of Brianna McKinnon
VIRIN: 191028-O-ZZ999-001D

McKinnon's not the only military spouse to face obstacles to employment -- she's one of many.

''I've talked to so many spouses who are 10 or 20 years in who said, 'I've given up everything so that my husband can be in the military,''' she said. ''It's kind of just a known thing between spouses that if your husband is in the military, you kind of give up what you love to do.''

Three years into the assignment in Ohio, McKinnon still isn't teaching. That does give her more time to take care of her two young children -- albeit with only one salary, which McKinnon said isn't nearly enough for her family. 

But during that time she also met with an Ohio lawmaker, and she shared her problem with him. ''I just started talking to people and eventually ran into Rick Perales,'' she said.

Together, they were able to develop legislation that would allow military spouses from a wide array of careers that require certifications and licenses to work in the state using credentials they'd earned elsewhere, McKinnon said.

''We have created [an] ... automatic reciprocity bill for all military spouses of any certification,'' she said.

If the bill is signed into law, which may happen in March, military spouses in Ohio will be able to work in just about any career that requires a license or certification by using the credentials they bring with them. That means more military spouses will be able to continue their careers and supplement their family’s income.

''It's going to take care of families,'' she said. ''Doing what I do as a career, that’s why I do what I do. I love kids. So this is going to help thousands and thousands of kids.''

While McKinnon was able to make a difference in Ohio, she said she knows the future will require more moves to new states and additional challenges for her when it comes to employment.

A woman and a man stand face to face and speak to each other in a large office. In the rear, another woman watches them.
Secretary Meeting
Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper meets with Brianna McKinnon at the Pentagon, Oct. 28, 2019. Leah Esper, the secretary’s wife, stands in the rear of the room.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class James K. Lee, DOD
VIRIN: 191028-D-WA993-0120

Their next assignment, she said, is in Oklahoma. Her husband is training to be a C-17 transport jet pilot. The couple have also decided that active-duty life is not for them. He’ll eventually join the Air Force Reserve, she said. Then, they’ll be able to take their family back to Washington state where she can put her degrees to use.

''My goal is to get behavior analysis into the foster care systems,'' she said. ''I want to move back to Washington, open up a practice that serves foster children, and make money to support my kids.''

On Oct. 28, McKinnon met with Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper so she could share with him some of the challenges of staying employed as a military spouse. 

She said spouse employment is a top priority for Esper and others.