Students with Disabilities:
Additional Information from Education Could Help States Provide Pre-Employment Transition Services
GAO-18-502: Published: Sep 6, 2018. Publicly Released: Oct 9, 2018.
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What GAO Found
Of the 74 state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies that responded to GAO's survey, most reported expanding services to help students with disabilities transition from school to work as required under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), enacted in July 2014. Most state agencies reported serving more students and providing work-based learning experiences and other activities, referred to as pre-employment transition services (see figure).
Number of Agencies That Reported Serving More Students Since July 2014
Note: There were 74 respondents. Totals do not sum to 74 because for each service one respondent reported decreases in the number of students served and the remainder either did not answer the question or responded “don't know.”
State VR agencies reported two key challenges with implementing pre-employment transition services for students as required by WIOA.
Spending reserved funds: States reported spending about $357 million out of the $465 million reserved for these services in fiscal year 2016. Education officials said that states had difficulty determining what expenditures were allowable, and some state officials said they would like more detailed information from Education. Education officials said they plan to clarify guidance but have no timeframe for providing further information, which would help states to better plan their use of reserved funds.
Finalizing interagency agreements: Fewer than half the state VR agencies that responded to GAO's survey (34 of 74) reported updating their interagency agreement with their state's educational agency. Interagency agreements can help promote collaboration by, for example, establishing roles and responsibilities of each agency. Although Education offers technical assistance on interagency agreements, without increased efforts to raise awareness about the importance of these agreements and provide assistance to states where needed, Education may miss opportunities to help state VR and educational agencies efficiently and effectively coordinate services.
In addition, WIOA requires Education to highlight best state practices, and most VR agencies responding to GAO's survey (63 of 74) reported this would be useful. Education does not have a written plan or timeframe for identifying and disseminating best practices. As a result, Education may miss opportunities to help more students with disabilities successfully transition from school to work.
Why GAO Did This Study
WIOA requires states to reserve at least 15 percent of their total State Vocational Rehabilitation Services program funds to provide pre-employment transition services to help students with disabilities transition from school to work. GAO was asked to review how states were implementing these services.
This report examines (1) steps states reported taking to implement pre-employment transition services, and (2) implementation challenges states reported and how Education has addressed them. GAO reviewed documents and funding data from Education, and federal laws and regulations; surveyed all 79 state VR agencies (74 responded); held discussion groups with representatives of 29 state VR agencies; and interviewed officials from Education and three states (Idaho, Illinois, and Maryland) GAO selected for variety in size and type of agencies, among other factors.
What GAO Recommends
GAO is recommending that Education (1) establish timeframes for providing additional information on allowable expenditures, (2) take additional steps to assist states that have not updated and finalized their interagency agreements, and (3) develop a written plan with specific timeframes and activities for identifying and disseminating best practices. Education agreed with the first recommendation and disagreed with the other two. GAO revised the second recommendation and maintains that specific information is needed for the third, as discussed in the report.
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Recommendations for Executive Action
Comments: Education agreed with this recommendation and stated that it would establish projected timeframes for providing states with additional information on allowable expenditures for the provision of preemployment transition services. Education also stated that it intends to provide states with additional information in at least two forums before the end of calendar year 2018 and to review and analyze previous guidance provided to states on allowable expenditures.
Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should establish timeframes for providing states with additional information on allowable expenditures of funds reserved for pre-employment transition services. (Recommendation 1)
Agency Affected: Department of Education
Comments: Education disagreed with this recommendation, in large part, because there is no statutory provision authorizing the agency to identify such states. Nevertheless, Education stated that it is taking some steps as part of its ongoing monitoring of the VR program to provide assistance to states that have not updated their interagency agreements. This is consistent with the intention of our recommendation but we believe more could be done. The agency also noted that it would continue to offer and provide technical assistance if it becomes known through the onsite monitoring of the VR program or through other means that states have not updated their interagency agreements between VR agencies and state educational agencies. In addition, its Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) and Office of Special Education Programs will provide information related to sources of technical assistance, as appropriate, to VR agencies and state educational agencies. While these steps may be helpful, given the number of states that have not updated and finalized their agreements and the length of time Education officials say they will take to complete this round of monitoring where Education asks state VR agencies about these agreements, additional action by Education may be needed to help states more efficiently and effectively coordinate services to students with disabilities.
Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should take additional steps to provide states assistance on updating and finalizing their interagency agreements with state educational agencies to include pre-employment transition services. These steps could include, for example, accelerating their efforts to discuss the benefits of finalizing interagency agreements, and reminding states of existing technical assistance resources pertaining to updating and finalizing interagency agreements. (Recommendation 2)
Agency Affected: Department of Education
Comments: Education disagreed with this recommendation believing it is premature to develop a timeline for the dissemination of best practices. The agency stated that the identification of "best" practices, meaning those that are clearly supported by a body of evidence derived from valid and reliable research findings, is still emerging as states implement the requirements. Education stated that as RSA identifies best practices through its monitoring and technical assistance activities, it will, in collaboration with its Office of Special Education Programs, consider when and how best to disseminate this information to state VR and educational agencies. With regard to including specific timeframes and activities in a written plan, by detailing the specific steps Education is taking and plans to take along with the amount of time it expects them to take, Education would be better positioned to complete those steps in a timely manner and meet the statutory requirement that Education highlight best state practices and support state agencies.
Recommendation: The Secretary of Education should develop a written plan with specific timeframes and activities for identifying and disseminating best practices that address, as appropriate, implementation challenges for pre-employment transition services, such as those identified in this report. (Recommendation 3)
Agency Affected: Department of Education