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Legislative Update: WIOA Becomes Law, VP Releases Federal Job Training Review as Competency-Based Education Gains Support

CapitolLast Tuesday, President Obama signed into law the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), historic legislation which supports workforce development activities throughout the country and funds job training programs for displaced youth and adults. This legislation reauthorizes and modernizes the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 and makes a number of positive improvements to that law. Over the past two months, WIOA was approved in both the House and Senate by overwhelming majorities before making its way to the President’s desk for signature.

Following its enactment into law, the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education have now set to work developing the necessary policies and regulatory guidance for states and local areas to implement the provisions of WIOA.  NASDCTEc will continue to engage in this process and keep the CTE community up-to-date as the law is implemented. Additional information from the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education can be found here and here. Important dates and key deadlines for WIOA’s implementation can be found on this timeline.

Vice President Releases Review of Federal Job Training Programs

On the same day that President Obama signed WIOA into law, Vice President Joe Biden released a long anticipated review of federal job training programs. Following his 2014 State of the Union address President Obama directed the Vice President to lead an across-the-board review of these programs, working closely with members of the President’s Cabinet. This review is the result of that months-long process. In Vice President Biden’s remarks, he called the passage of WIOA an opportunity to outline in greater detail “how to keep and maintain the highest-skilled workforce in the world.”

The  report titled “Ready to Work: Job-Driven Training and American Opportunity” presents a number of findings on the effectiveness of existing job training programs and makes a series of recommendations for how to improve on those efforts. Among the many actions steps proposed in the report is a seven-component “Job-Driven Checklist,” which will guide the Administration’s efforts to strengthen existing workforce programs and supplement the positive steps taken in WIOA:

  • Employer engagement/involvement for determining local or regional labor market needs;
  • Establish opportunities for work-based learning as a clear pathway to employment;
  • Leverage data more effectively to drive program accountability;
  • Measure and evaluate employment and earnings outcomes for program participants;
  • Promote pathway systems which provide opportunities for additional training or credentials;
  • Increase access for high-need populations through the promotion of additional support services;
  • Promote regional partnerships between workforce and education systems and other stakeholder groups.

Beginning on October 1, all eligible applicants for 25 different federal competitive grant programs across federal agencies will be required to incorporate each of these elements into their application. In total, these programs represent approximately $1.4 billion in annual funding for workforce development activities throughout the country. Additionally, the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education will begin to encourage states to incorporate this checklist into their unified state plans— a new requirement introduced under WIOA.

The report goes on to highlight a number of other Administration-led initiatives which have already been announced, such as the Registered Apprenticeship College Consortium (RACC), the Performance Pilot Partnerships for Disconnected Youth (P3), and the American Apprenticeship Grant among a handful of others. As part of the report’s release, the Department of Education also announced that it will launch the Career Pathways Exchange, “an online information dissemination service that will give all states and interested stakeholders access to resources and guidance to develop, expand, and strengthen their career pathways systems.” Read the full report here.

Support for Competency-Based Education Grows

In conjunction with the Vice President’s report, the Department of Education (ED) also announced a new round of its “experimental sites” (ex-sites) initiative, which aims to test and showcase innovative strategies and approaches to delivering postsecondary education. These experimental sites hope to demonstrate that it is possible to transition away from “seat time” in favor of demonstrated student competency— an approached widely known as competency-based education.

Since the early 1990s, ED has had the ability to waive certain statutory and regulatory requirements under the Higher Education Act (HEA). These restrictions determine if postsecondary institutions can receive funds from federal student aid programs authorized under Title IV of HEA. Through the ex-sites initiative, ED will waive certain statutory and regulatory requirements under the Higher Education Act (HEA) requirements which affect Title IV federal student aid funding to provide institutions greater flexibility when implementing competency-based programs. Learn more about this announcement from ED here and Department’s official notice with detailed application instructions can be found here.

Activity around competency-based programs is also happening in Congress. Following a voice vote from the House Education and Workforce Committee, H.R. 3136 – also known as the Advancing Competency-based Education Demonstration Act – went before the full House and passed unanimously. This bill is part of the House committee’s larger strategy of reauthorizing HEA through a series of smaller bills aimed at renewing the law. The legislation has similar objectives to ED’s ex-sites initiative by allowing up to 20 institutions to offer competency-based education programs without meeting existing federal aid requirements under Title IV HEA. Eleven amendments were proposed and adopted during the bill’s vote. Among them was one offered by Representative Jim Langevin (D-RI), encouraging the greater dissemination and collection of enrollment and employment information of students participating in programs supported by the legislation.

Congressional Appropriations Lose Steam

Both the House and the Senate Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 appropriations processes have stalled after months of negotiations. Congress looks set to pass a Continuing Resolution, a move that would temporarily extend current FY 2014 funding levels past the October 1 deadline when current federal funding is set to expire. Encouragingly, the Senate Appropriations Committee released the text of its intended FY 2015 Labor, Health & Human Services, and Education appropriations bill which included a $5.4 million increase for the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act’s (Perkins) basic state grant program.

Although the appropriations process has since stalled and this funding increase is unlikely to be realized in the upcoming fiscal year, the release of the subcommittee’s text is an encouraging demonstration of Congress’ commitment to the Career Technical Education (CTE) enterprise. It is also important to note that Senate appropriators rejected the Obama Administration’s proposal for a new competitive CTE “innovation fund”- a sign that Congress largely remains opposed to a shift from the current formula-funded structure in the Perkins Act to a competitive model.

Steve Voytek, Government Relations Associate 

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