Higher Education News
Friday marked the two-year anniversary of President Obama signing into law the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (or WIOA for short). Last month, the Departments of Labor and Education, in close collaboration with the Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, and Housing and Urban Development, made publicly available the final rules implementing WIOA. We are excited to continue the conversation around WIOA and we are committed to making sure WIOA works for all job-seekers, workers, and employers as the departments implement the final rules.
Here’s what WIOA means and why it matters:
- WIOA means the first major reform to federal job training programs in more than 15 years. When WIOA passed with bipartisan majorities in Congress and was signed by President Obama in 2014, it had the potential to revitalize the public workforce system to reflect the realities of the 21st century economy and meet the needs of all job-seekers, workers, and employers. The final rules announced last month are the embodiment of that potential, setting the foundation for the workforce system to connect Americans of all walks of life more efficiently and effectively to high-quality careers. They also ensure that businesses of all sizes have access to the talent pipelines that will help grow their business and the U.S. economy.
- WIOA means improved services for approximately 20 million people every year. Looking for work can be challenging on many levels. WIOA streamlines that process, breaking down barriers between government agencies and service locations. It provides seamless access to high-quality services to help people get a job and advance along a career pathway – as well as crucial supports like food and housing assistance — through a network of more than 2,400 American Job Centers and their partners across the country.
- WIOA helps people overcome hurdles to find a job. WIOA improves access to job training and education opportunities for people who have traditionally faced barriers to employment, including individuals with disabilities, out-of-school and at-risk youth, youth in foster care or young adults who have aged out of foster care, formerly incarcerated individuals, and others. WIOA emphasizes pursuing and obtaining post-secondary education, training and other credentials as a foundation for improving career prospects for the long-term. The final rules will also help the approximately 1 million veterans, who use these services every year, better translate the skills they learned in the military into quality civilian careers.
- WIOA is better for business and communities. Under WIOA, businesses inform and guide the workforce system so that services are aligned with industry needs. WIOA places a premium on industry or sector partnerships and proven strategies like apprenticeship and work-based learning to deliver high-quality worker training.Since meeting workforce needs is critical to local, regional, and national economic growth, WIOA better aligns workforce development programs with economic development efforts. The final rules also put a greater emphasis on reemployment strategies and require rapid response activities at the state level in response to layoffs or other workforce reductions.
- WIOA means more and better information about what works. The final rules require that education and training providers publicly report their results so that the millions of people who use these services can make more informed choices about programs to pursue. Improved transparency also means improved accountability through better program evaluations and strong common performance metrics to ensure future investments are evidence-based and data-driven.
Whether you are looking for a job, looking to improve your skills, or looking to hire, WIOA works for you! To get started today, visit one of the more than 2,400 American Job Centers around the country or call 1-800-USA-JOBS.
The WIOA final rules, along with accompanying resources, are available at the following links:
- Employment and Training Administration (ETA) WIOA Site
- Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) WIOA Site
- Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) WIOA Site
Tom Perez is U.S. Secretary of Labor and John B. King, Jr., is U.S. Secretary of Education.
All students—regardless of race, national origin, religion, disability, or sex—deserve access to a high-quality education, from preschool through college. Throughout the last seven-and-a-half years, the Obama administration and the Department of Education have worked to safeguard the rights and protections of our students by enforcing our nation’s civil rights laws and implementing regulations that prohibit discrimination and providing additional support to educators to prevent such discrimination.
Building on these critical efforts, today, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) launched a webpage that consolidates resources from across the Federal government about religious discrimination. The new page links to OCR’s relevant policy guidance and case resolutions involving religious discrimination claims, as well as resources in various languages and from other Federal agencies.
We also revised our online complaint form to clarify when OCR can investigate complaints from individuals who believe they have experienced racial, ethnic, or national origin discrimination involving their religion. Both efforts aim to ensure that students of all religious backgrounds receive the full protection of federal civil rights laws.
OCR’s jurisdiction under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 extends to discrimination based on a person’s actual or perceived shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics, including membership in a religion that may be perceived to exhibit ethnic characteristics (e.g., Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh students). Our updated online form reaffirms that students and parents of all faiths can file complaints with OCR that include aspects of religious discrimination in education, even though Title VI does not expressly prohibit religious discrimination.
Such complaints are not new to OCR. Last year, we received more than 450 complaints of racial or national origin harassment, including some involving religion. We have used enforcement as a key tool to protect students of many religious backgrounds from unlawful discrimination. For example, we have resolved cases involving Jewish students subjected to anti-Semitic epithets or Muslim students targeted for wearing a hijab and called terrorists. In instances where schools failed to address a hostile environment, we have secured commitments from those schools to improve their harassment policies and procedures, train staff and students, and conduct school climate surveys.
In addition to resolving cases, OCR has conducted outreach and worked to share resources with the field in order to support schools in their efforts to prevent religious discrimination. Since March, OCR has participated in a series of roundtables with other federal agencies on issues of religious discrimination, including bullying of students from diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds. Our participation in the Justice Department’s Combating Religious Discrimination Today roundtables also has given us the opportunity to hear from communities and advocates around the country on the issue of religious discrimination in our nation’s schools. In June, OCR issued a fact sheet about combating discrimination against Asian-American, Native-Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, Muslim, Arab, Sikh, and South Asian students, and I recently blogged about OCR’s work to prevent discrimination involving religion at schools and universities.
We recognize, as the Department recently stated in the Federal Register, that there are “an increasing number of incidents of anti-Semitic bullying and harassment in public schools . . . [and] reports documenting that students who are or are perceived as Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Arab, Middle Eastern, South Asian, or Southeast Asian are frequent targets of bullying and harassment.” In response, the Department revised the regulations for the Equity Assistance Centers (EACs). The EACs, starting in October, will be authorized to provide technical assistance, on request, to public school districts, students and parents, and community organizations to prevent and combat religious discrimination.
Recognizing that data are critical in understanding the problem and measuring progress, later this year every public school district in the country will be required, for the first time, to report to OCR through the Civil Rights Data Collection on the number of incidents of religious-based bullying or harassment in their schools in the 2015-2016 school year. We hope that this information will be useful to schools, policymakers, researchers, and others to facilitate a broader understanding of the scope of this issue.
We look forward to continuing this important work by using all the tools at our disposal to address unlawful discrimination so that all students can learn in safe, inclusive, and welcoming school environments.
Catherine E. Lhamon is Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education.
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