Rhode Island lawmakers hope a federal spending bill expected to be approved last week will allow the national Job Corps workforce-development program to soon start accepting new enrollees. A national freeze on enrollment following budget shortfalls could keep as many as 100 Rhode Island at-risk youths from gaining education and vocational training if it lasts until the current June 30 projection.
“The Exeter Job Corps Center is one of the best in the country. We have a modern, effective center that is producing well-trained, young people for our economy and their future,” said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., last week. “The immediate issue is to get enrollment started again. I’m hopeful that’s going to begin.”
The U.S. Department of Labor announced in mid-January that it would suspend enrollment at all Job Corps centers through the 2012 program year, effective Jan. 28.
The program provides low-income men and women ages 16 to 24 with career, technical, and academic training, including earning a high school diploma or GED.
The enrollment freeze came on the heels of the Department of Labor’s Jan. 8 announcement it would cut almost 3,000 student slots at seven selected schools. The financial problems began with the program-year 2011, however, and those responsible for its oversight admitted before a Senate panel that sloppy management and poor planning resulted in significant budget shortfalls.
“I take full responsibility for our failure to manage these issues more aggressively,” Janet Oates, assistant secretary for the Employment and Training Administration, said in a Feb. 19 letter to several U.S. senators who, following the enrollment freeze, asked the Department of Labor to identify what had gone wrong and for justification for the suspended enrollments.
Oates wrote that escalated costs during program-year 2011, including unplanned costs from opening three new centers between program years 2010 and 2011, created financial problems that went unrecognized.
The administration began efforts to control costs through programmatic changes, which targeted nonmission-critical administrative expenses and instituted initiatives to better control contractor expenditures.
But Oates wrote that “several significant steps … to gain better control of Job Corps’ expenses … ultimately were insufficient,” including reducing student stipends, transition pay, academic support and career technical support contracts, and a national media buy.