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Bipartisan Group of Lawmakers Expect Swift Passage of Workforce Bill

Education-focused legislation has seems to be faring relatively well in this historically dysfunctional Congress. While heavy lifts like the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act have fallen victim to the do-nothing ethos in Washington, smaller, more targeted bills, like the House-passed education research bill and the Senate-passed child care bill, are part of a short list that have cleared chambers.

And soon to be added to that list—possibly before lawmakers take off for July recess, but most likely before their summer break—is an overhaul of the federal workforce training law.

Lawmakers from both chambers and both sides of the aisle said Tuesday that they expect the bill, officially titled "The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act," to move quickly despite a couple of issues still being resolved to appease Senate Republicans.

"I need to talk to Lamar [Alexander] to make sure the underbrush is cleared, but it's still a go," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, speaking of the Tennessee Republican and ranking member of his committee. Harkin added that he expects the proposal to move before July recess.

Harkin worked with Alexander, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., as well as a bipartisan group of congressmen in the House, including Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., and Reps. George Miller, D-Calif., Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., and Rubén Hinojosa, D-Texas.

The bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers reached a deal on the bill in May. Though the workforce law isn't a K-12 bill, it has ramifications for students with disabilities. Specifically, states and school districts would be required to think more critically about how to help students who have been in special education transition into the workforce and post-secondary education. You can read more about what is included in the workforce training bill here.

Alexander agreed with Harkin that they're making good progress.

"We still have a few discussions to have," said Alexander. "I'm working closely with Sen. Harkin, Sen. Murray, and Sen. Isakson, and [Majority Leader ] Sen. [Harry] Reid has indicated that he will bring it up when we're finished. So we're on a good path, but we're not there yet."

When asked whether the bill would be on the Senate floor before the July recess, Alexander said he hoped so. "This is an important bill on the number one issue in the country: How do we help Americans have better skills to get better jobs? We're united in trying to get this done."

Isakson was also optimistic of the July timeline, adding that the veterans' bill that is already scheduled for floor debate shouldn't delay the workforce overhaul.

"We got the veterans bill before this bill, but hopefully [we'll vote on the workforce bill] sometime before we leave," Isakson said. "Certainly before we leave in August. We feel really good that we'll have a good game plan on the floor, and we want to be sure amendments are heard as long as they're relevant to the bill."

 Murray, Kline and Foxx were all also on board with the timeline.

"Looks like it's moving along pretty well," said Kline. "It's largely the Senate Republicans who are involved here, and they've got to talk to each other, so we're just waiting. But I'm very optimistic because it looks like the issues are being addressed."

Final passage would be a big victory for this Gang of Eight who have been working to reauthorize the federal workforce law, in some cases, for more than a decade.

"I've been working on the bill for 12 years," Isakson joked, "so there are already a lot of my fingerprints on there."

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