Testimony – Lifelong Education Opportunities (Governor Sebelius)

Chairman Enzi, Senator Kennedy and members of the Committee, I am Kathleen Sebelius, Governor of the State of Kansas, and Chair of the National Governors Association Education, Early Childhood and Workforce Committee. I appreciate the opportunity to appear before you today on behalf of the nation’s governors on lifelong learning.

New NGA Education and Workforce Policies

In February, the nation’s governors approved three new policies that offer bipartisan recommendations to align federal education laws, accelerate state high school redesign, and promote lifelong learning through the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). The full text of the new policies is attached. I’m very proud of our work on the NGA to reach a bipartisan agreement on these issues.

Today, I’ll limit my comments to governors’ new vision to align federal education laws and to streamline workforce programs. Governor Fletcher will discuss how Congress can help accelerate state high school redesign action plans.

Education and the Economy

Our economy is changing, and we must change with it. Technology and trade have revolutionized the way companies do business. Manufacturers in Kansas must compete with manufacturers in Europe, Asia and South America. What took 20 workers a full day to produce just a generation ago can now be handled by a single worker with the right machinery and a computer. A small shop owner in Frankfort can fill an order from Tokyo just as easily as a college student in Topeka can order from a store in Paris.

What all of these scenarios require however is skilled and educated labor. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that by 2020, there will be a 22 percent increase in the number of jobs requiring some postsecondary education. Yet during the next 20 years, we will lose 46 million skilled workers as baby boomers retire. Even with more people getting some form of secondary education, as many as 12 million jobs are likely to go unfilled; a loss that will disproportionately affect industries that are critical to our economic growth, including education, health care, technology, and manufacturing. This shortage constrains the productive capacity of key industries and jeopardizes the quality of services in others.

But developing an educated and skilled workforce is not just good for business, it is good for people. Census data shows the median earnings of a high school graduate ($30,800) are 43 percent higher than those of a non-graduate ($21,600). Those of a college graduate are 62 percent higher than those of a high school graduate. States stand to benefit too. Economist Anthony Carnevale estimates that if states expand college access among African Americans, Hispanics, and non-Hispanic whites, “the resultant earnings improvements would certainly narrow income differences and could add as much as $230 billion in national wealth and $80 billion in new tax revenues every year.”

NGA Principles of Preschool-College (P-16) Alignment

In the 21st century, the economic strength of the United States will depend on the ability of each state and our nation to develop a coordinated and aligned education and workforce system that supports, trains, and prepares a skilled set of workers. Now is the time to take action to create a seamless American education system, by aligning federal education laws to promote lifelong learning. The pending reauthorizations of the of the Workforce Investment Act, Higher Education Act, Head Start, and the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act present an unprecedented opportunity to align federal education laws and promote lifelong learning.

The pathway to progress is clear. Federal education laws from pre-school through college, commonly referred to as P-16, must be aligned to foster state innovation, eliminate costly duplication, and ultimately improve education outcomes for all students.

NGA recently commissioned a study by Holland and Knight that examined the relationship between key provisions of these major laws: Head Start, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the Carl D. Perkins Vocational-Technical Education Act, the Higher Education Act (HEA), and the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). The initial analysis will inform congressional debates and will help the larger education and workforce community to begin a dialogue on education alignment and coordination.

The NGA’s study of relevant laws revealed several important initial points. Some laws, such as NCLB and IDEA provisions related to improving student performance, “read together” and can be implemented in an integrated fashion. However in too many cases, federal education laws:

  • Do not reinforce each other’s substantive requirements;
  • Establish duplicative requirements that may result in unnecessary burden on states (most notably the duplication in reporting requirements and data collection);
  • Create no clear, coherent system to effective and efficient reporting of information to the (1) public, (2) federal agencies, or (3) Congress; and
  • Provide funding in ways that discourage the integration and strategic use of all available federal dollars for a common purpose.

Too often, federal education laws are isolated, one from another. But education begins in the early years and continues for a lifetime. The federal-state-local education system must be coordinated to serve the needs of all students, young and old. Limits and restrictions on state innovation generate costs that our nation cannot afford.

Governors believe that the federal education laws should be aligned to:

  • Embrace state coordinated P-16 efforts;
  • Provide greater flexibility to states;
  • Streamline federal data reporting requirements;
  • Expand gubernatorial authority to coordinate federal funds;
  • Recognize and reinforce constitutional gubernatorial authority over education in their states; and
  • Support lifelong learning.

From California to Georgia to Delaware, governors are leading P-16 reform efforts to oversee the integration of early, elementary, secondary and postsecondary education. Governors urge this Committee to carefully consider how federal education laws to each other. We need to break down the isolation, eliminate the duplication, and provide new flexibility, so that governors can build more seamless education systems.

Transition to and Preparing for the Workforce

Education is ultimate form of economic development. Education can not end at the classroom door. Rather its continuation is the cornerstone of developing and maintaining a competitive workforce. As governors, we are continually working to ensure that our institutions of higher education and our workforce systems are ready to develop and sustain a skilled workforce for today’s modern, global economy.

Our workforce’s increasing diversity and growing needs for skills offer new challenges in how we educate and train workers. We must accommodate ethnic and cultural differences; we must provide for the needs of working and individuals with disabilities; and we must address the literacy gaps of low-skilled workers and the language needs of immigrant workers.

Exacerbating these challenges is the global economy that continually creates and eliminates jobs. Every year, up to a third of all jobs are either added or eliminated from the economy. This churning has contributed to the breakdown of the social contract between workers and employers and reduced the incentives for employers to invest in their workers. For many employees, the traditional concepts of job security, career ladders, and job progression simply do not exist. Increasingly, workers experience periods of dislocation and must have the tools to manage their own careers through first-rate labor exchange services. Lifelong education is a key part of moving through a career that consists of multiple jobs.

To address these issues, our public workforce programs must have enough flexibility to meet the demands of an unpredictable economy and a changing worker population. These programs cannot be a one-size fits all systems with rigid regulations and service delivery structures. Rather, the programs must recognize the differences among states and communities, and thus provide governors, working with local government, business, and labor to design flexible ways to meet distinct needs. At the same time, programs must remain accountable, given their reliance on public investments.

Reauthorizing the Workforce Investment Act

WIA authorized Governors to initiate broad structural reforms in their workforce development systems. With this authority, the nation’s governors have made significant progress in restructuring these systems and strengthening the essential partnerships between federal, state, and local governments and the private sector. Yet state-by-state experiences reveal that many challenges remain, such as providing a comprehensive, highly integrated education, training, and employment services for workers. In addition, states need help in meeting reporting requirements, coping with resource constraints and fully engaging the business community as partners.

On March 24th, the nation’s governors sent a letter to the members of this Committee enumerating our bipartisan recommendations for the reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act. The full text of our policy is attached.

Governors believe that WIA reauthorization presents a great opportunity to enhance the federal-state workforce system, support state innovation, and provide greater authority to governors in overseeing the implementation and coordination of workforce programs. Combining a comprehensive, integrated, and flexible workforce system with nimble state economic development strategies, the nation will have the tools for speedy, effective responses to the changing needs of workers and businesses alike, as they compete in the global economy.

To address those challenges and strengthen the nation’s workforce development system, governors offer the following recommendations for any legislation to reauthorize WIA:

  • Provide flexibility to coordinate funds: As noted by Secretary Chao, the Administration’s proposal would consolidate four WIA programs: Adult Training, Dislocated Worker Training, Youth Training, and Employment Services. It also creates various options for consolidation with five other programs. Instead of consolidating federal WIA programs, however, the Senate WIA bill should offer governors the option and authority to coordinate WIA program funding to meet the unique needs of their states; and it should also include a hold harmless provision to protect against any diminished federal investment in workforce and related programs. Congress should provide governors with the option, at their discretion, to pool WIA, higher education, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and other sources of federal training money to respond to the state-level needs of workers, businesses and other interests.
  • Eliminate youth spending mandate: WIA should not mandate the amount of youth funding that must be spent on out-of-school or in-school youth. Governors should be able to direct youth funds according to the needs of their respective states.
  • Improve access and participation: Congress should ensure that individuals can easily enter and reenter the system at any point and access services as needed, not in a prescribed sequence. Congress should also work to fully engage businesses in the workforce system and eliminate barriers that prevent workers and businesses from receiving assistance in a timely and efficient manner.
  • Serve the business community and foster economic development: WIA needs to better serve the business community and to connect with the economic development needs of the state. WIA reauthorization should also recognize the important partnerships among federal, state, public, and private workforce programs and the governors’ authority to press for innovations. For these reasons, Congress should support strong state public-private partnerships to ensure an adequate supply of workers for high-growth occupations as determined by individual states. To facilitate the relationships between governors and their business community, Congress should also encourage coordination by the U.S. Department of Labor.
  • Encourage innovation: Congress should remove barriers to state innovation; these include, but not limited to, overly burdensome reporting requirements, inconsistent terms and definitions, and limitations on transferring funds.
  • Align related workforce and education programs: Partnerships within one-stop centers have proven difficult to foster; given myriad agencies, organizations, financing, and responsibilities involved in delivering the array of services in one location. Governors recommend that the federal partner agencies develop a joint initiative to align federal regulations and encourage support for and participation in one-stop centers. Alignment efforts should encompass WIA, higher education, TANF, vocational rehabilitation, vocational and technical education, trade adjustment, veterans’ employment, and other distinct programs. In particular, governors strongly support efforts to coordinate WIA and TANF to give welfare recipients and other low-income workers easier, more effective access to education and training.
  • Coordinate management and performance information: The initiative should address common management and performance information, including cost sharing, resource allocation, and joint case management, it should also facilitate the sharing, processing, and providing of services to participants. Establishing cross-system measures could support consistent information systems that span state and federal workforce programs.
  • Streamline the Workforce Boards: The Senate WIA bill should give governors the authority to design and re-designate the local workforce areas without federal interference.
  • Eliminate Section 191: Section 191(A) of WIA has led to problems within some states by requiring that all WIA funds are subject to appropriation by the state legislature. This unnecessary provision should be eliminated to ensure that gubernatorial authority to allocate federal funds.


We must never stop learning. Congress should view today’s workforce and education programs as part of a continuum of lifelong learning. Current and future workers should have the opportunity to equip and reequip themselves for productive work through training, education and professional development. Governors stand ready to work with Congress and the Administration to ensure that our workers and economy continue to lead the world in the 21st century.