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Partisan Divisions Emerge on Workforce Investment Act

Tomorrow, the U.S. House of Representatives is going to consider a long-stalled reauthorization of a major bill. Nope, sorry, edu-advocates, it's not the renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—instead it's the Workforce Investment Act or WIA, which has been pending even longer than ESEA, if you can believe it.

WIA doesn't have major implications for K-12 schools, but it does govern some job training programs that have an education component, or that serve high-school-age students. What's more, the political dynamics surrounding this bill could be a harbinger of what might happen around other education and workforce development legislation, like ESEA.

The measure would consolidate or eliminate 35 programs, many of which were found to be duplicative in this 2011 Government Accountability Office report. Instead, it would create a broader funding stream for job training programs.

The programs that would be scrapped include WIA Youth Activities, which was financed at $824 million in fiscal year 2012, and is aimed at helping disadvantaged kids access to workforce training. The bill would also eliminate YouthBuild, which can help low-income youths as young as 16 earn a GED, while getting job-training skills. It would also scrap the Youth Conservation Corps, which helps high-school-age youths work in National Parks. And it would consolidate JobCorps, another program that helps those 16 and up earn a GED and get training experience. Much more on this fact sheet, put together by committee Democrats (who oppose the WIA legislation).

Some advocates probably remember the education legislation that the House Education Committee passed back in 2011 that would essentially slim down education programs, cutting more than 40 programs that the committee saw as duplicative—and angering a lot of advocates in the process.

U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House education committee, which wrote the WIA bill, said the measure would replace "a maze of confusing training programs" with "a flexible Workforce Investment Fund. ... Critics have claimed it creates a one-size-fits-all approach, but nothing could be further from the truth."

But committee Democrats—and the Obama administration—are not fans of the bill. In fact, panel Democrats actually walked out of the WIA markup earlier this year. In a joint statement, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and other key committee Democrats said the bill had "scant support and has garnered significant opposition" and was "being advanced for political reasons, not to make the workforce investment system work better." That theme was also picked up in the Obama administration's statement on the bill.

On the other hand, Rep. Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, has really taken a shine to this legislation, which he is citing to help bolster his credentials as a lawmaker with a deep connection to workforce issues. More on that in this Politico story and this post. He even appeared with Kline at an event at Northern Virginia Community College today to tout the measure. Will he also take ESEA under his wing and raise its prominence? He's already said he doesn't like the administration's waivers. So time will tell.

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