Workforce Bill To Help Students Leaving Special Education
I read this week that the federal government is trying to renew a workforce bill (“Workforce Investment Act”) that would address the issue of individuals with special needs transitioning out of school settings and into the workforce. The bill recognizes that some individuals with special needs are relegated to isolated jobs involving menial tasks when they should instead be working side by side with nondisabled peers in as typical a work setting as possible. The idea behind the bill is right on point. For a long time, I’ve been wondering about, and for the last several months I’ve been vigorously advocating for, assisting individuals with disabilities to transition into a workplace setting. We spend all this money on resources to provide disabled students with an education that is individually tailored to meet their needs, but then abruptly terminate those supports when that individual ages out of school. We have the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, but where is the Individuals with Disabilities Supportive Employment Act? If supportive employment can be implemented by a small private school in Peru (see http://blog.dayanlawfirm.com/2013/12/reflections-on-peru.html), where the government cares little about funding the needs of children with special needs, why can’t we in the U.S., where the government, rightly or wrongly, plays such a significant role in education, implement it as well?
It’s unclear to me, however, whether this Workforce Bill is the right approach for addressing this issue. According to Education Week (see http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2014/05/bipartisan_bicameral_workforce.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+CampaignK-12+(Education+Week+Blog%3A+Politics+K-12), the primary purpose of the bill is not K-12 education but rather workforce training issues, including adult education. But the bill continues to fund a number of K-12 programs, which I imagine would leave less money for supportive employment for individuals with special needs. If the part of the bill that focuses on youths concerns itself not only with individuals with special needs but also high-school dropouts and disadvantaged youth who are pursuing GED’s or vocational training, which seems to be the case, how much of the funds would be applied toward special needs individuals?
I haven’t read the existing version of the bill, but I’d be curious to know if it addresses the following points. What kinds of supports would these individuals receive to assist with transitioning to the workforce? For instance, would there be daily support in the form of an on-site job coach or shadow, or perhaps a once a month group training session with some tips on how to act around the office? What kinds of jobs would these individuals be transitioned to? Who would qualify for this program? That is, would more intensive supports be provided for individuals with more severe needs, or would those with more severe impairments be excluded? What employers are participating or will participate in this program, and what training do they/will they receive? How will compensation for disabled individuals compare to the compensation of their nondisabled peers performing the same job?
While this approach to legislation may be politically convenient for the reasons that Education Week identifies, I’m not convinced it represents the kind of broad reform that I think we need to help individuals with disabilities become independent and productive adults. I’d be curious to hear others’ thoughts on this and would be interested in learning more about what other efforts are being made to address this important issue.