Washington Watch: House committee approves key workforce bill

The House Committee on Education and Labor on Tuesday approved the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act of 2022 (WIOA), which would reauthorize the statute that governs the federal workforce development and adult basic education programs.

The full House is expected to consider the bill in the coming months, but its future beyond a House vote is uncertain.

H.R. 7309 is a Democrat-backed measure that passed the committee on a party-line vote. Democratic and Republican committee staffers had engaged in bipartisan negotiations for several months, but those talks ended earlier this year.

The American Association of Community Colleges, along with the Association of Community College Trustees, wrote a letter to the committee praising many aspects of the bill, but not endorsing it outright. The biggest highlight in the bill for community colleges is an authorization of the Strengthening Community College Training Grants (SCCTG) program. The program was started in the fiscal year 2020 appropriations bill and has been funded for three years, but it is not yet authorized.

No streamlining ETPL process

H.R. 7309 contains other positive elements, including language that would result in more community college representation on state workforce development boards, improvements to the method by which local one-stop centers are funded, and a more specific requirement that community colleges be included in the development of state workforce education plans.

Disappointingly, though not surprisingly, the bill does not streamline the process for adding a workforce education program to a state’s eligible training provider list (ETPL). Community college leaders have long complained that the requirement to produce completion and earnings data for all individuals in a program, rather than just WIOA participants, disincentivizes them from adding more programs to the ETPL. H.R. 7309 would continue that requirement.

The bill also would authorize the secretary of labor to implement a procedure for “validating” that a given program is aligned with industry needs. This would potentially increase the complexity of adding a program to the ETPL, though subsequent revisions to that provision exempt community colleges and other higher education institutions from this requirement.

On the other side of the aisle

Committee Republicans offered their own version of a bill as a substitute amendment. Republican criticisms of the Democrats’ bill were mainly centered on:

  • The increased authorized funding levels it sets for WIOA programs (though any actual funding increases would come through appropriations)
  • An insufficient emphasis on increasing the amount of training supported by the system
  • Failure to expand support for apprenticeships beyond registered apprenticeships
  • An increased role for organized labor in the system’s governance

Other Republican amendments offered were mainly vehicles to criticize Democrats on immigration policy and protections for transgender individuals and other minority groups. None of these amendments were passed. There were no Democratic amendments offered beyond a substitute amendment that took the place of the underlying bill.

About the Author

Jim Hermes
Jim Hermes is associate vice president of government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges.