Proposed agreement would improve vocational services

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Focus on Transition from Special Education to Employment

A bipartisan group of Senators and Representatives announced an agreement May 23 to reauthorize the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which includes significant changes to transition services for special education students.

The Workforce Investment Act currently provides funding to a variety of job programs. Many of those programs lead young people with disabilities into jobs with state-run and private employers that pay subminimum wages, under a long controversial provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Under the agreement, so-called Vocational Rehabilitation Programs would be required to create “individual employment programs” for students with disabilities, in order to assist them with seeking competitive employment at above-minimum wages, according to the Huffington Post.

In addition, states would have to spend at least 15 percent of their Vocational Rehabiliation dollars on assisting students while they are still transitioning out of school.

“(The changes) will raise prospects and expectations for Americans with disabilities, many of whom, under current law, are shunted to segregated, sub-minimum wage settings without ever receiving the opportunities and skills to succeed in competitive integrated employment,” Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) told the Huffington Post.

The Workforce Investment Act, passed in 1998, oversees $3 billion in job training programs. The agreement seeks to modernize the law by eliminating 15 programs and creating universal performance metrics.

The agreement was long in the making. When Harkin first introduced the plan in August, many disability advocates raised concerns that it would do little to reduce subminimum wage employment, which many advocates have sought to permanently end.

The recent changes to the bill may have reduced some of these concerns.

“We believe that the revised compromise language…while not perfect by any means, will help to reduce the number of youth with disabilities being tracked into subminimum wage employment,” Christopher Danielsen, a spokesman for the National Federation of the Blind, told Disability Scoop.

The agreement’s co-sponsors include Reps. John Kline (R-Minn.), Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), George Miller (D-Calif.) and Ruben Hinojosa (D-Texas) as well as Sens. Harkin, Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Johnny Isakson (R-Ga).