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Highlights

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

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.

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Recommendations

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.

Recommendations for Executive Action

Agency Affected Recommendation Status
Department of Education 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)
Closed - Implemented
On February 28, 2020, Education published a Notice of Interpretation in the Federal Register that provided states with additional information on allowable expenditures for the provision of preemployment transition services. This notice clarified that states may use reserved funds to provide auxiliary aids and services to all students with disabilities who receive pre-employment transition services, and it established that states may also use these funds to provide certain other Vocational Rehabilitation services to eligible students. The notice also listed and described categories of services that are and are not allowable.
Department of Education 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)
Closed - Implemented
Education developed and disseminated a review instrument in July 2019 that state agencies could use when developing and revising, as needed, the content of their interagency agreements. The instrument explains the benefits of finalizing these agreements and includes descriptions of technical assistance resources available. Education also provided feedback to at least one state on its interagency agreement where Education discussed the need for the state to be in compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements, including those related to pre-employment transition services.
Department of Education 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)
Closed - Implemented
To address this recommendation, Education worked with three technical assistance centers to strategize and compile a list of nine best practice examples. The list includes descriptions and links to webinars conducted by the technical assistance centers and reviewed by Education along with associated resources. In addition, Education developed a written work plan in collaboration with the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition that includes descriptions of activities to develop and disseminate information along with timelines for completing them.

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