Senate Passes Long-Awaited Workforce Reauthorization

By Neil Ridley

On June 25, 2014, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to pass the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)—bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the nation’s workforce development and adult education programs. The Senate action comes after years of legislative attempts to revise and update the Workforce Investment Act, which was enacted in 1998.

WIOA improves current workforce and adult education programs and supports wider adoption of career pathways and other strategies that will improve job and economic prospects for low-income adults and youth. The bill requires comprehensive planning at the state and local levels and adopts a shared performance measurement system that will make it easier to align a range of education and training programs. Key improvements are:

  • Increased focus on comprehensive programming for youth without a secondary school credential and those who face the greatest challenges;
  • Wider range of services (including transitional jobs) for low-skill, low-income adults and individuals with barriers to employment;
  • Improved performance accountability provisions that reduce disincentives to serving participants who need considerable assistance;
  • Support for career pathways, integrated education and training, and other approaches to adult education that allow for increased transitions to and success in postsecondary education; and
  • Recognition of adult education and English language services as first steps for an adult learner on a career pathway that leads to a recognized postsecondary credential.

Although the bill contains many helpful improvements, not all of the changes are positive. Most notably, it eliminates federal funding sources that have supported program experimentation and systems change at the state and local levels. This includes federal incentive grant funding, awarded to states for exemplary performance, which has been used to develop career pathways and other innovative approaches for adults and youth during the past decade.

CLASP supports passage of WIOA as an important step forward. If the bill is passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and signed by President Obama, the next priority should be to make sure it’s successful by increasing resources for the nation’s workforce and adult education programs.  Investing in workers will create stronger families, stronger communities, and economic growth.