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What the past tells us about WIOA’s future under Trump’s picks for Labor and Education

  • Joanna
  • January 23, 2017

Everything is about to change.

Or maybe not. No one really knows at this point.

Here’s what is clear, however: The administration that took the reigns of our federal government on Friday has a vastly different set of priorities than the administration it replaced. And that could mean big changes are in store when it comes to the implementation of one of the most important pieces of legislation in the past decade.

That’s the contention of Kathy Carmody, the CEO of the Chicago-based Institute for Public Policy for People with Disabilities. She contends that the challenges that service providers are already facing when it comes to interpreting the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act may be accentuated by the fact that the new administration could choose to interpret the law in vastly different ways.

What clues do we have as to how Labor and Education will address their responsibilities under the law, which was passed with overwhelmingly bipartisan support? A good start is to look at what the people at the helms of both of those departments have said and done in the past.

Andrew Puzder, Labor

Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of labor, Andrew Puzder, is the CEO of CKR Restaurant Holdings, which franchises the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s fast-food restaurants.

There may be some clues as to how he would view a rapid shift in approach when it comes to WIOA in his June 2014 testimony before the House Education and Workforce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions. In that testimony, Puzder took an “if it’s not broke” approach to regulations, arguing that it would be rash to rush into new standards (in that case those regarding the relationship between franchisors and a franchisee’s employees) without due consideration to the long-term effects of such decisions. Is WIOA broke? It’s way too early to say, but given its broad bipartisan support and state-centric approach to deciding how money is spent, there’s been precious little complaint about its implementation so far.

In that same testimony, Puzder also indicated an appreciation for entrepreneurship (albeit through the franchise system) and for creating opportunities for women and minority workers to succeed, noting with apparent pride that 62 percent of his franchisees’ general managers are minorities and 66 percent are women. “Several of our executive vice presidents and senior vice presidents started as restaurant employees and learned the business as restaurant general managers,” he added. This might be a hint that the new secretary will have an appreciation for the parts of WIOA aimed at stoking entrepreneurship, creating chances for people to climb their way to the top, and improving opportunities for women and minorities.

Immigrants — especially those who are undocumented — have been a sticking point for some states when it comes to the implementation of WIOA programs. Hardliners have argued, and sought to create barriers, for program participation by immigrants who came to the United States illegally. Those on the other side of the issue have intentionally created standards for programs that don’t require any sort of residency verification for participation. As an appointee of Trump — who has argued passionately for tighter immigration enforcement — Puzder’s policies might come as a surprise to many people. That’s because he has expressed support for immigration reform. As such, he may be unlikely to meddle in state control over how that particular issue is handled.

Betsy DeVos, Education

Trump’s pick for secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, is a staunch and long-time advocate for school choice and free market charter schools.

Among her triumphs: Helping pass legislation that attached state funding to students, rather than districts, and additional legislation that removed the cap on how many charter schools could operate in the state of Michigan.

That could be a strong indicator of how she’ll view the right approach for funding of WIOA initiatives — tying money to participation rather than programs and loosening restrictions on who can launch a program to compete for such money.

Many people have also called DeVos “the perfect person” to help Trump keep his promise of eliminating the Department of Education. She hasn’t said quite as much as that, but it’s very likely that DeVos will seek to further roll back federal rules and oversight over how WIOA money is spent, leaving it further in the hands of the states.

Perhaps the best indicator of the sorts of programs DeVos will champion is the charter school her husband, billionaire Dick DeVos, founded — West Michigan Aviation Academy, where educators seek to engage students in academics through training in “flight science.” It’s no secret that DeVos is a fan of out-of-the-box thinking when it comes to student engagement (a big part of the WIOA mission, particularly for out-of-school youth) and she may seek to prioritize such initiatives.