Key Points for School Leaders on New Workforce Investment Act

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Something amazing happened in Congress this week: Democrats and Republicans in both chambers were able to hash out a bicameral, bipartisan piece of substantive legislation that is expected to be signed into law in a matter of weeks. The legislation, known as the Workforce Investment Act or WIA, has been overdue since 2003 and in a weird way I used to take consolation in the fact that while ESEA has been overdue since 2007, the same committees charged with reauthorizing ESEA were unable to reauthorize WIA for 11 years. Perhaps 11 years for bipartisan reauthorizations are the new normal and we will have a new ESEA in 2018? I sincerely hope we don’t have to wait 4 more years and that this recent bipartisan activity spurs greater collaboration across the aisle and across the Capitol on a variety of issues (like ESEA, Perkins, IDEA!).

Here are a few points about the WIA bill that school leaders should know and understand.

First, WIA contains the Vocational Rehabilitation Act and makes substantial changes to how VR provides transition services to districts. The most major and positive change to note in the WIA reauthorization is that VR must spend 15% of its budget on pre-employment transition services for all eligible students with disabilities. Each local VR office will designate someone tasked with attending IEP meetings (when invited) and who will work with schools to coordinate and ensure the provision of pre-employment transition services is carried out effectively in accordance with IDEA and WIA requirements.

Second, VR must use the 15% set-aside to provide students with work-based learning experiences, which may include in-school or after school experiences or experiences outside the traditional school setting (like internships) and opportunities to experience integrated work environments to the maximum extent possible. VR must also provide job exploration counseling for students and counseling on opportunities for enrollment in comprehensive transition or post-secondary programs in higher education. Finally, VR must provide workplace readiness training to develop social skills and independent living skills and instruction in self-advocacy, which may include peer-mentoring. VR is also authorized to spend money to develop and improve strategies for individuals with intellectual or significant disabilities to live independently, participate in post-secondary education experiences and obtain and retain competitive integrated employment. They can also assist in providing instruction to VR counselors and school transition personnel to improve pre-employment transition services and to coordinate VR transition service activities with school districts to conform to IDEA requirements. While it’s great that VR must put money and people power towards assist districts in providing pre-employment transition services to students and ensure students have opportunities for integrated competitive employment while they are in still in school, it is likely that districts will also have to also step-up their pre-employment transition services and provide more comprehensive, effective transition planning for students when IDEA is reauthorized. Hopefully by the time IDEA reauth occurs (my guess is 2020), VR services will be more seamlessly woven into the traditional transition service programs provided by districts and it will be easier and more logical to increase the responsibilities of districts to provide strong transition programs for students with disabilities.

In addition to the new, prominent role of VR in assisting with student transition services, school superintendents should be aware of provisions in WIA related to sheltered workshops. Whether VR should be allowed to place individuals in sheltered work was hotly debated during past attempts at reauthorization. While the bipartisan bill does not prohibit districts from having sheltered workshops as a transition goal—as many disability advocates had hoped—it does prohibits districts from entering into a contract or other arrangement for the purpose of sending students to sheltered workshops. It also states that any employers who hire individuals at a subminimum wage can only do so if the following conditions are met: the individual received pre-employment transition services in accordance with IDEA or WIA, the individual applied for VR services and was found ineligible, the individual made a serious attempt to work in supportive employment settings without success, the VR case is closed, and the individual received career counseling, and information and referrals to supported employment. Schools must provide documentation to prove that the individual received pre-employment transition services from the district prior to an individual working in a subminimum wage employment setting and any other documentation required to meet the conditions above. It is clear that the numerous conditions placed on subminimum wage employment are intended to deter school district personnel, VR personnel, parents and students away from choosing this employment option as much as possible. I am sure that whether subminimum wage employment can be an IEP transition goal will come up again during the IDEA reauthorization as well. If you have more questions, please email me (spudelski@aasa.org)




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