The chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee is asking U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to withdraw the Reimagine Workforce Preparation (RWP) grant competition, which would provide state workforce agencies with funding for short-term programming, including career pathway programs for unemployed and underemployed workers in jobs affected by COVID.
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Virginia) said in an August 24 letter to DeVos that the competition was created outside the allowable uses of CARES Act Education Stabilization funding, noting in particular industry-recognized apprenticeship programs (IRAPs).
Scott wrote that it was the Education Department’s “latest attempt to divert Congressionally authorized funding from local educational agencies and institutions of higher education to the Administration’s politically favored projects that Congress has continuously declined to fund.”
Democrats have in general opposed IRAPs, arguing that they would allow companies to circumvent many quality standards and safety precautions established in registered apprenticeships. Supporters argue IRAPs would allow applicants to cut through much bureaucratic red tape and attract more companies to offer apprenticeships as a form of workforce training, especially among small businesses, new and emerging fields and in sectors that don’t typically offer such paid, work-based learning experiences.
Tapping CARES Act funds
In June, the Education Department (ED) announced the new CARES Act-funded RWP grant program, which focuses on short-term job training for in-demand occupations and entrepreneurship development. The application deadline was Monday. ED aims to award grants by October.
The CARES Act provided $307.5 million for discretionary grants, which the department planned to divide between two competitions: $127.5 million for the RWP grant and $180 million for the Rethink K-12 Education Models Grant, which ED announced in April.
Scott argued in his letter to DeVos that while the RWP may include some activities authorized by CARES, “it includes many more that are not,” including granting funds to state workforce agencies rather than state career and technical education agencies.
“As it [ED] cannot point to any law authorizing its use of Education Stabilization Funds to create a program that is unrelated to education stabilization, the Department is exceeding its authority to issue these grants under the CARES Act and other relevant authorizing statutes,” Scott wrote.