On May 21, Senators Murray (D-WA), Harkin (D-IA), Alexander (R-TN), and Isakson (R-GA), along with Representatives Kline (R-MN), Foxx (R-NC), Miller (D-CA), and Hinojosa (D-TX) introduced the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), bipartisan, bicameral legislation reauthorizing the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). WIOA would reauthorize the program for six years, from 2015 through 2020.
In general, the bill focuses on streamlining programs, reporting and administration. The bill eliminates 15 existing federal training programs—including WIA incentive grants, WIA Pilots and Demonstration Projects, and the Workforce Innovation Fund (WIF). It creates common measures across “core” programs for both adults and youth, and mandates a single, unified plan for all core programs.
The bill maintains the existing basic structure of WIA (i.e., an occupational training title; an adult basic education [ABE], literacy and English language acquisition [ESL] title; Wagner-Peyser; and Vocational Rehabilitation), and does not create a single block grant or otherwise consolidate current funding streams.
The bill amends current law in a number of ways. Key changes include:
- Workforce Investment Boards (WIBs). WIOA generally maintains the current structure of state and local workforce boards, continuing to require a business majority and chair. However, the number of required members is reduced.
- State and local plans. WIOA requires a single, unified State plan covering all core programs authorized under the bill. The plan must describe the State’s overall strategy for workforce development and how the strategy will meet identified skill needs for workers, job seekers and employers. Local plans must be aligned to the strategy described in the State plan, and must describe how services provided at the local level will be aligned to regional labor market needs.
- Performance measures. WIOA creates a single set of common measures for adults across all core programs authorized under the bill, including both occupational training and adult education programs, and a similar set of common measures across all youth serving programs authorized under the bill. Adult measures include: unsubsidized employment; median earnings; receipt of a secondary diploma or recognized postsecondary credential; measurable skills gains toward a credential or employment; and employer engagement.
- American Job Centers (one-stop centers). WIOA requires State boards to establish criteria for use by local boards to assess the “effectiveness, physical and programmatic accessibility, and continuous improvement” of American Job Centers at least every three years. The bill maintains current requirements for mandatory one-stop partners to reach a voluntary agreement to fund infrastructure costs; however, if local areas fail to come to an agreement, a State mandated funding mechanism may be imposed upon those local areas.
- Employment and Training Activities. WIOA codifies the elimination of the original “sequence of services,” and combines core and intensive services into a new “career services” category. The bill signals to states and local areas an interest in seeing a number of existing best practices adopted or expanded, including: career pathways (including integrated or contextualized ABE, ESL, and occupational training); industry or sector partnership (local WIBs are required to “convene, use, or implement” sector partnerships); and an increased focus on the attainment of industry-recognized certificates and credentials linked to in-demand occupations.
- State-wide set aside (i.e. governor’s set aside). WIOA restores the state-wide set-aside to 15 percent.
- Funding levels. Unlike current law, which simply specifies “such sums as necessary”, WIOA includes specific funding levels for each fiscal year (FY) 2015 through 2020 for the WIA Youth, Adult, and Dislocated Worker programs. Funding levels in FY 2015 are consistent with levels established under the Bipartisan Budget Act, which means that the programs would be funded at post-sequester levels. Funding levels are increased each year, and generally reach FY 2010 levels by FY 2017. However, it is important to understand that these are just authorization levels and actual funding levels will continue to be determined through the annual appropriations process. Unless Congress takes steps to undo the existing budget caps and mandatory cuts under sequestration, it is extremely unlikely that programs will be fully funded at these authorized levels.
- Data and accountability issues. The Workforce Data Quality Campaign (WDQC) has done an initial analysis of data and accountability issues under WIOA. You can read their analysis here.
WIA is more than a decade overdue for reauthorization, and it is important that Congress demonstrate its support for federal investments in a skilled workforce by strengthening and improving the federal workforce development system. Employment, occupational training and adult education programs remain extremely vulnerable to funding cuts so long WIA remains unauthorized. WIOA takes an important step to protect these programs. While National Skills Coalition would have liked to see the bill go further than it does on certain issues, we are supportive of its passage.
Because WIOA is a bipartisan, bicameral bill that has the support of both House and Senate leadership, it is our expectation that the bill will move fairly quickly through both chambers. Although the Senate is in recess next week, staff will try to resolve any outstanding issues and it is likely that the Senate will try to advance the bill through a unanimous consent (UC) agreement in early June (which means that the bill would not be brought to the floor for debate or amendments). Once the Senate passes the bill, the House would then take it up, possibly on the suspension calendar (an expedited process which requires two-thirds vote for passage, but, again, limits debate and amendments). Although the Administration has offered limited comments on the bill so far, it seems likely that President Obama would sign the bill if it is passed by both chambers.
Of course, passage of WIOA is just one part of the process. There will be important opportunities to continue to improve the workforce development system as the Departments of Labor and Education develop regulations and guidance after the bill passes, and as state and local policymakers begin implementing the new law.
National Skills Coalition will provide additional, detailed analysis of the bill in the coming weeks.