ISSUE #6: Workforce Education and Training

Changes in funding, new apprenticeships and financial aid are all on the table for discussion.

As with the majority of federal programs, workforce education and training programs continue to operate under a continuing resolution at current funding levels, while Congress continues its work on the Fiscal Year 2018 budget. The Senate Appropriations committee approved a version of the spending bill for Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies on September 7, 2017.  This version is more favorable than the House version, as it maintains current funding, including Title I funding for state formula grants under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and Perkins grants. The bill also provides $95 million to support apprenticeships that foster sector partnerships to close the skills gap in expanding industries. In comparison, the House has proposed reducing WIOA grant funding by 3 percent while also eliminating funding for apprenticeships, WIOA Title III Employment service grants, and the Workforce Data Quality Initiative. National advocates, such as the National Skills Coalition, have joined with more than 50 other organizations in the Campaign to Invest in America’s Workforce to fight for investments in workforce education and training programs.

Another significant development in workforce education and training was President Trump’s Executive Order, “Expanding Apprenticeships in America.” The Executive Order directs the Secretary of Labor, in cooperation with the Secretaries of Commerce and Education, to consider proposing new regulations to support the expansion of industry-recognized apprenticeships through third-party certifying entities. The Executive Order also establishes the new Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion, charged with developing a report to the president that details: federal initiatives and legislative and administrative reforms necessary to support expansion of apprenticeships; strategies to create and expand industry-recognized apprenticeships; and strategies to support private-sector initiatives to promote apprenticeships. National workforce advocates continue to work with the administration to provide recommendations on the development and implementation of the Executive Order.

The PROSPER Act

Also related to workforce education, House Republicans finalized the PROSPER Act – the first reauthorization of the Higher Education Act since 2008 – without any bipartisan support in December 2017. The bill contained some bipartisan provisions, such as simplifying the student financial aid process by offering only one loan, one grant, and one work-study program from federal sources. The bill also has been criticized for rolling back regulations and eliminating both the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and federal funding for grants that incent students to pursue teaching careers in high-need subjects. While the Senate has yet to release details on its proposal to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee have publicly committed to a more bipartisan approach beginning in the first quarter of 2018.