Bipartisan Workforce Bill Moving to a Vote
This summer Congress is set to pass the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) through a bipartisan, bicameral bill known as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). With Congress at loggerheads over most legislation, the fact they have moved toward passage of this important legislation is in itself significant. The House passed a version of WIA in March 2013 with bipartisan support, and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed its version, also overwhelmingly bipartisan, in July. After intensive negotiations, in May 2014 House and Senate leaders introduced the WIOA to reauthorize a law that is more than ten years overdue for action. That bill is now on the fast track to be finalized and sent to the president.
The Senate hopes to have the bill on the floor before the July 4 congressional recess, with the hope that House passage would follow quickly. Both chambers are looking at an expedited process that would allow for few if any amendments.
This bill represents a critical step to addressing the serious workforce issues facing the nation. Currently 52 percent of adults ages 16-65 lack the necessary literacy skills to be successful in postsecondary education and employment. For individuals with disabilities the statistics are particularly grim, with the highest rate of unemployment of any group and two-thirds not in the workforce at all.
In the area of workforce development, WIOA makes several significant changes. States will be required to submit one plan to address all of the core programs, including vocational rehabilitation and employment services under the Wagner-Peyser Act. States also must develop a comprehensive strategy to align workforce activities with demands of the labor market and economic development goals. The bill emphasizes the need for both physical and programmatic accessibility of one-stop centers and training providers. All core programs under WIOA will use a common set of performance indicators. In addition, a strong focus is placed on youth with significant barriers to employment and education.
In addition to workforce training and development, WIOA reauthorizes the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act. Specific activities are required at the State, local, and national levels, including integrating basic adult education and occupational skills training and the use of career pathways. These activities are necessary to provide smooth transitions to postsecondary education, training, or employment. The Secretary of Education is also directed to do more research on these adult education activities.
WIOA also includes a reauthorization of the Rehabilitation Act. The bill prioritizes competitive integrated employment for individuals with disabilities, with a special emphasis on youth transitioning from school to work, by ensuring better skills acquisition. Disability programs must be better aligned to ensure individuals with disabilities receive the services, supports, and technology to live independently and successfully.
A number of other amendments are made to the Rehabilitation Act, including the following:
- The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) is renamed the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research and is moved from the Department of Education to the Administration for Community Living of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
- The independent living and assistive technology programs are also moved from the Department of Education to the HHS Administration for Community Living.
- The bill eliminates several programs: Projects with Industry, Recreation Programs, and the Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker Program.
- The Secretary of Labor must establish an Advisory Committee on Increasing Competitive Integrated Employment for Individuals with Disabilities. Constituencies represented must include among others self-advocates for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities, employment services providers, representatives of national disability advocacy organizations for adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities, and experts and researchers in the field of employment.
- The term "pre-employment transition services" is introduced, again focusing on youth with disabilities. Voc rehab agencies will be required to provide job exploration counseling, work-based learning experiences, counseling on opportunities for enrollment in comprehensive transition or postsecondary educational programs at institutions of higher education, workplace readiness training to develop social skills and independent living, and instruction in self-advocacy, as well as other authorized activities.
To view specific legislative language, summaries of the bill, and statements from the bill sponsors, click here.
My Brother's Keeper Focuses on Reading Proficiency
My Brother's Keeper is a new White House initiative focusing on the need to turn around negative outcomes for boys and young men of color, especially those in poverty. The president established a task force to examine the problems facing this population, and the group's first report which has just been issued includes recommendations that address early childhood to adulthood. The report acknowledges the higher incidence of learning or emotional disabilities and health challenges such as diabetes and asthma among boys and young men of color and the higher likelihood of their enrollment in special education. The report also focuses on a milestone of third grade reading proficiency as a predictor of later success.
The task force has centered its recommendations on certain critical life milestones in addition to third grade reading proficiency, areas where interventions may have the most significant impact. Those milestones include early childhood health and school readiness, graduation from school college- and career-ready, completion of postsecondary training or education, successful entry into the workforce, and keeping youngsters on track and providing second chances.
Regarding third grade reading proficiency, the report states "All children should be reading at grade level by age 8the age at which reading to learn, and not just learning to read, becomes essential." They cite reading as the key ingredient to later educational, employment, and life success. On the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the only representative and continued assessment of American students' achievement, 83 percent of Black, 81 percent of Hispanic, and 78 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native students scored below proficiency in reading at the fourth grade level, as compared to 66 percent of White students.
To address the problem of poor reading skills, the task force makes several recommendations. First, they note the importance of reading with an adult during the early childhood years. Children in low-income families are less likely to have books at home or to be read to than middle- and upper-income children. Adult literacy is also an issue in low-income families. The task force recommends launching "a public and private initiative to increase joint and independent reading time outside of school and build a reading culture in more homes."
Second, the group recommends enhancing and expanding efforts to develop and promote best practices in reading instruction, including early literacy screening. The report notes the success in using multi-tiered systems (MTSS) of support for early identification of and use of evidence-based interventions with at-risk students. They also note the use of MTSS for behavioral and social-emotional supports where indicated, as well as better collaboration between general and special education.
The third literacy recommendation involves establishment of a "Principal and Teacher Leadership Corps for the Improvement of Early Literacy." According to the report, the U.S. Department of Education should collaborate with foundations and education organizations to examine current and develop new models of evidence-based practices to improve early literacy.
View the full report here. Many of the other recommendations align with LDA's policy agenda and, if implemented, would make a significant difference in success for a long-underserved population.
Fiscal Year 2015 Appropriations Stuck Again
Just as it looked like Congress was returning to the regular schedule for passage of Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 appropriations bills, the process has slowed again. The federal fiscal year begins on October 1. By that date Congress must either pass the 12 appropriations bills that provide funding for all federal agencies or resort to a Continuing Resolution to keep the government operating until appropriations are settled. LDA follows most closely the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education ("Labor-H") appropriations bill. As of early mid-June only the Senate Labor-H Appropriations subcommittee had passed a bill.
The process involves several steps. Both House and Senate Labor-H subcommittees pass their bill versions, send those to the full Appropriations Committee in each chamber, and then move to floor passage of each bill. Finally a conference committee of House and Senate members is convened to reconcile the two bill versions.
The good news is that Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Representative Hal Rogers (R-KY), respective chairmen of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees, have pledged to finalize appropriations hopefully by the October 1 deadline. Chairman Mikulski has talked about passing a series of "mini-buses," where several appropriations would be considered together on the floor, in order to get all the bills done on time.
This is the first time in quite a few years where it appeared both chambers were on track to pass a Labor-H bill. It is usually one of the last appropriations bills to be considered, because there are usually a number of riders on controversial social issues attached to the bill. For example, since health care is funded by Labor-H, amendments to repeal or significantly change the Affordable Care Act are sure to be introduced. However, consideration of the subcommittee bill in the full Senate Appropriations Committee was removed abruptly from the schedule with no explanation, and the House subcommittee has yet to schedule consideration of its bill.
The Senate Labor-H Subcommittee bill most likely will be the high water mark for education, health, and job training and employment programs for FY 2015, regardless of what happens next. Overall, education programs got a very small increase of $229 million in the Senate Labor-H bill. Please remember: The numbers cited below reflect only the work of the Senate Labor-H subcommittee and not the final amounts.
- Title I, ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act, currently known as No Child Left Behind): + $50 million.
o State grants for K-12: + $40 million.
o IDEA Grants for Infants and Toddlers (Part C): + $3.3 million.
o IDEA Preschool program: level funding.
o IDEA Personnel Prep: level funding.
o IDEA State Personnel Development: level funding.
o IDEA Parent Information Centers: + 2 million.
- Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Program: + $10 million.
- Career and Technical Education: + $5.4 million.
- Preschool Development Grants: + $100 million.
- Javits Gifted and Talented: +2 million
- Adult Basic and Literacy Education State Grants: + $12.9 million.
- Vocational Rehabilitation State Grants: + $270.8 million
LDA will keep you informed and will report on the final numbers at the conclusion of the appropriations process.
Guidance Issued on FERPA Changes
Recently the U.S. Department of Education issued guidance on changes to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) enacted through the passage of the Uninterrupted Scholars Act (USA) last year. The USA addressed the need to share educational information on children in foster care among schools, the court system, and child welfare agencies. Any changes to FERPA also affect the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), since the IDEA confidentiality regulations incorporate and are consistent with FERPA. While FERPA regulations have not been amended as yet to address the amendments made by passage of the USA, school districts and schools are required to follow the USA changes to FERPA.
FERPA generally requires school districts or schools to obtain prior written consent from parents or students at the age of majority before disclosing "personally identifiable information" from the student's education records, unless certain exceptions apply. The Uninterrupted Scholars Act (USA) added a new exception that lets school districts and schools release education records, without consent, to child welfare agencies or tribal organizations authorized to access a student's case plan when those agencies or organizations are legally responsible for the child.
Under the new USA exception, State education agencies and local school districts are allowed to disclose to child welfare agencies personally identifiable information from education records of students with disabilities. Once a disclosure has been made, the participating agency must follow all other regulations under FERPA and the IDEA, including record keeping requirements. This new exception also applies to the IDEA Part C program for infants and toddlers with disabilities.
Click here to read the full guidance document.