Weekly Notes: WIA reauthorization prognosis; Community colleges report

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Weekly Notes, Week of 11/15/10

Now that the election is over, the focus in education and workforce policy is squarely on legislative priorities in the House Education and Labor Committee and the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP). Of particular interest, of course, is the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), which is now seven years overdue.

We can go ahead and assume the ongoing lameduck session will be just that and not expect movement until the 112th takes over in January. But for proponents of getting WIA reauthorized (we know of nobody who entirely opposes that concept), the odds that even the next Congress will get it down appear to be somewhere between “highly unlikely” at worst and “uncertain” at best.

WIA was enacted in 1998 to provide billions of discretionary funding, first to states and then passed on to local efforts, to boost job training and job placement. It expired in 2003 and has failed to receive reauthorization every year since.

Though lobbyists pushing for WIA reauthorization are by now genetically skeptical about reauthorization, there is a case to be made that Republican leadership in the House could boost the prospects of passage.

There is a bipartisan Senate version of the bill in the preliminary drafting stage, led by Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Sen. Enzi (R-Montana). That, combined with the Republican House version of the bill from 2009, could lead to a reauthorization bill landing on President Obama’s desk before he’s even run his first 2012 reelection ad.

Swiftness will be key this next session, as the countdown to the 2012 election is well underway, so the ability for committee leadership to work off an existing bill could be helpful. And swiftness is achievable with a bipartisan Senate bill on one side and a Republican House version on the other.

“Because they want to see fewer changes, perhaps [the Republicans] can put together something that will move forward faster,” said Jonathan Larsen, policy associate at the National Youth Employment Coalition.

Of course, there are reasons why WIA might not get reauthorized this session. To Seth Turner, director of government affairs and public policy at Goodwill, the prospect of the re-introduction of an old Republican House bill gives him flashbacks to the mid-2000s, when a single politically divisive provision held the bill back.

Turner was referring to charitable choice, the issue of whether church recipients of WIA funds could discriminate in hiring practices based on religious affiliation, as an issue he thinks Republicans and Democrats will continue to butt heads over in 2011.

Instituting charitable choice, which some Republicans are concerned with as a faith-based issue but some Democrats see as a crucial civil rights issue, is certainly a major obstacle in getting WIA passed in the 112th. 

Larsen described the WIA reauthorization climate this way: “The [reauthorization] bill as created was created in a Republican Congress and adopted by a Republican congress. There are definitely members of the new majority that’s in Congress that we expect to be supporters for that reason. Having said that, there are always potential landmines, things that could stand in the way.”

Both Larsen and Turner said they suspect WIA will take a backseat to Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization. 

“The problem with WIA reauthorization is it’s never been the priority bill,” Turner said. “There’s always something in front of it.”

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) taking on new leadership in a different committee has paved the way for newcomer Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) to become the Republican’s point man on WIA within the Education and Labor committee.

Here’s a Senate version of WIA reauthorization from 2006 that never received passage from the house.

 

* The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) just released a report called, "Just How Similar? Community Colleges and the For-Profit Sector". Now, when Youth Today covered a report last September that described for-profit colleges as a superior choice, we made sure to mention the report was written by a research center created by the University of Phoenix. AACC says this report is much different, and should not be treated as a retort or a policy suggestion, but rather just to provide clearer public understanding. We’ll let you decide. 

 

* Check out the latest blog posting from Andrew Sum on Youth Today about teen employment, or lack thereof it. Andrew Sum breaks down the latest figures to show just how far behind today’s teens have fallen from just ten years ago. Standing out from the piece: If today’s teens were employed at the rate they were in 2000 there would be an extra 3.25 million teens with jobs right now.

 

Events:

 

The National Journal is hosting a panel discussion on benefits for businesses to invest in educational attainment at the Newseum’s Knight Broadcast Studio in Washington. The discussion is Wednesday, Nov. 17 from 8:30-10:30 a.m. RSVP here.

 

Also on Wednesday, the National Association of School Psychologists will host a briefing from 10:30 a.m.-noon at 2122 Rayburn in an event titled, Learning and Social-Emotional Supports for Students Experiencing Family Transitions: Meeting the Needs of Military, Foster, and Homeless Children.” RSVP to abollinger@naspweb.org.