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Legislative Update: Congress Announces Agreement on Workforce Development Legislation

CapitolMore than a decade has passed since the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) was originally due for reauthorization. In that time, Congress has come close to an agreement a few times for overhauling the law, but never got as far as it did this past Wednesday. After months of negotiations between both parties in the House and Senate, lawmakers announced they had reached a deal on the long anticipated reauthorization of the federal government’s largest piece of workforce development legislation.

Dubbed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the bicameral, bipartisan legislation is a compromise between the House-passed SKILLS Act (H.R. 803) and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee’s WIA reauthorization legislation (S. 1356). A side-by-side comparison of the proposals can be found here.

The compromise legislation unveiled on Wednesday, contains a number of promising provisions that NASDCTEc and the broader Career Technical Education (CTE) community have been urging Congress to take up since the reauthorization process for WIA began. Specifically, NASDCTEc had raised concerns regarding provisions in both the Senate and House proposals to alter how one-stop infrastructure is funded. Proposals contained in each would have impacted state and local Perkins recipient’s capacity to effectively administer CTE programs and activities.

One-Stop Infrastructure Funding

Currently, WIA does not provide direct funding for the operational costs of one-stop centers and WIOA proposes to follow in that same vein. Much like the current system, WIOA would require that all mandatory partners contribute to the infrastructure costs of one-stop centers, but would do so with more vigor than in current law. The main impetus behind this is to spur greater collaboration among the WIA one-stop system and its partners. Additionally, funding the costs of one-stop infrastructure in this fashion will allow a greater portion of federal appropriations under this act to go towards direct training costs.

Postsecondary CTE programs which receive funding from the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins) are among the required partners in the WIA/WIOA one-stop delivery system—  a central point of service for state and local WIA/WIOA training and employment activities where activities with partner programs must also be coordinated. Funding for infrastructure would pay for the operational costs of these one-stop centers.

Under this proposal, local Workforce Development Boards (currently known as local workforce investment boards) are first directed to come to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on infrastructure funding contribution levels, other shared costs, and how the partners would deliver services under the system. Put another way, an MOU is a consensus agreement on those issues among the local board, chief elected officials and one-stop partners in a local area. If such an agreement is not reached, a funding mechanism would be used to require each one-stop partner to contribute up to 1.5 percent of total grant funds available for administrative purposes. However, the contribution level could vary as the Governor must first make a determination for each local one-stop partner’s individual contribution based on a number of factors. By default, these funds would be sent to the Governor, who would then use the contribution to pay for costs of one-stop infrastructure in a local area.

During the process of determining a one-stop partner’s contribution, the Governor must take into account the existing statutory obligations and ability of a program to meet those requirements. Additionally, contributions are required to be calculated based on a “proportionate use” of the one-stop system. Both of these provisions were proposals NASDCTEc and its partners called for as Congressional negotiators worked towards this bipartisan compromise.

Significantly, if a state places the authority of a partner program’s funding outside of the Governor’s office, then the chief official within that agency or entity would execute the above responsibilities on behalf of the Governor. Since Perkins funding in many states flow through an eligible agency fitting this description, the state agency responsible for Perkins would still retain significant oversight  and input into how postsecondary CTE programs receiving Perkins funding would contribute to the one-stop system. While a separate funding stream for infrastructure funding would have been ideal to fully meet the infrastructure costs of the one-stop system, this compromise was needed given the tight fiscal and budgetary constraints under which this bill was negotiated and written.

To recap, only postsecondary CTE programs receiving funding from the Perkins Act would be required partners in the WIOA one-stop system. All of the one-stop partners in a local area must first attempt to come to a voluntary agreement, in the form of an MOU, to fund the costs of infrastructure and to decide how partners would deliver services in the one-stop system. Failure to reach an MOU would trigger the above funding mechanism which would be imposed only on local partner programs in a particular local area where an MOU was not reached. Additional provisions have also been added to this mechanism that would take into consideration partner programs’ statutory obligations and their ability to meet those requirements along with their proportional use of the one-stop system. Most importantly, if a state places Perkins funding authority outside of the Governor’s office, then the chief official in that agency or department would have a significant amount of oversight and input into how these contribution levels are determined.

Sequence of Services Eliminated, Along With 15 Existing Programs

WIOA also proposes to eliminate the “sequence of services” provision contained in current law that requires individuals to go through a prescribed sequence of core services before gaining access to more relevant training. This has been consolidated into “career services,” which holds as a goal to more effectively assess the unique needs of individuals seeking services from the various programs authorized under this legislation. WIOA also consolidates 15 existing programs, many of which are currently authorized, but have been unfunded for a number of years. In total, 14 workforce programs and one higher education program would be consolidated under the proposed legislation.

Board Size, Composition and Direct Contracting

State and local workforce development boards would also be reduced in overall size in an effort to increase their efficiency. Business majorities have been maintained on each and the local iterations encouragingly require representation from adult education and literacy provides, institutions of higher education and can also include representatives from local education agencies. CTE representation is also encouraged, but not a requirement for either board.

Another promising aspect of WIOA is the new found ability of local workforce development boards to directly contract with community colleges. Such contracted training supports faster development and implementation of training programs, and would help to better address current and emerging labor market trends while also quickly increasing capacity during times of high demand. Additionally, WIOA would designate area career and technical education schools as eligible one-stop operators. This designation allows area CTE centers, along with a host of other institutions such as those in the higher education space, to receive funding under the legislation to operate as a one-stop center.

Accountability, Career Pathways and State Leadership

WIOA completely revises the accountability section of the existing law, introducing common performance metrics for all the programs authorized under the act. Primary metrics center mainly on employment after program exit, postsecondary education after program completion (for youth programs), median earnings, credential attainment, skills gains and employer engagement. The proposed legislation would also prioritize industry recognized certifications and credentials, another encouraging aspect of the proposal.

There is also a renewed focus on career pathways within WIOA and it introduces a statutory definition seeking to align education, training and other programs into a coherent path towards employment or further postsecondary education. Many of the elements contained in this definition integrate well into a CTE program of study (POS) framework and could compliment stronger aspects of a program of study structure in a newly reauthorized Perkins Act.

Congressional negotiators also sent a strong message regarding the importance of state leadership in education and workforce training programs. WIOA would re-instate the 15 percent set-aside for Governors to carry out statewide initiatives tailored to the individual needs of their particular state.

Outlook and Prospects for WIOA

This overview is by no means exhaustive and there are still many details and aspects of the bill that could change WIOA as it makes its way through both the Senate and the House over the coming weeks and months. Nevertheless, this is the furthest Congress has come in reauthorizing this critical piece of federal workforce development legislation. While not perfect in every respect, WIOA is a positive step in the right direction and NASDCTEc applauds the efforts of Congress to move forward on these critically important issues.

WIOA is currently in the Senate, where it has been introduced as a substitute amendment for the House-passed SKILLS Act (H.R. 803). Senate leaders have hotlined the bill — a parliamentary maneuver which they hope will speed up the Chamber’s consideration of the legislation before it moves on to the House. Congressional aides expect legislative action surrounding WIOA to begin in earnest following the Memorial Day recess. As this process unfolds, NASDCTEc will keep the CTE community informed as to its progress.

Information on the bill, including the full text, one-pagers and factsheets, can be found here.

Steve Voytek, Government Relations Associate 

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