Vocational rehabilitation agencies across the country say they’re serving more students with disabilities thanks to a new federal mandate, but they’re still falling short of fully meeting their obligations.

The vast majority of state vocational rehabilitation agencies indicate that they’ve seen an uptick in the number of students they have provided with workplace readiness training, work-based learning experiences, self-advocacy training and counseling related to job exploration or postsecondary education over the last four years.

That’s according to a new report from the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office looking at what are known as pre-employment transition services.

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Under a 2014 law, states were required to provide the employment preparation services to all students with disabilities, whether or not they specifically requested them. Moreover, the so-called Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act mandated that vocational rehabilitation agencies spend at least 15 percent of their program funds to help students with disabilities make the transition to work.

The provisions were among many in the law that sought to keep students with disabilities from being funneled from school to sheltered workshops and other environments paying less than minimum wage.

Following the law’s implementation, GAO investigators inquired with all 79 state vocational rehabilitation agencies nationwide and 74 of them responded to a survey. Federal investigators held discussion groups with representatives from 29 of the state agencies and interviewed staff from three as well as the U.S. Department of Education.

More than half of vocational rehabilitation agencies told GAO that they added at least one transition specialist in response to the new law’s requirements and most said they entered into agreements with third-party service providers to meet their obligations to students. In addition, all of the agencies surveyed said they trained their employees on pre-employment transition services.

However, just 21 states met the requirement that 15 percent of their funds go toward helping students transition, GAO found. Collectively, states spent some $357 million on pre-employment transition services as of 2016 even though $465 million was reserved for this purpose.

Education Department officials acknowledged that there was some confusion about what types of expenditures could qualify and the department said it plans to issue guidance on the matter, the report indicates.

In the meantime, GAO investigators noted that “opportunities may be missed to identify and serve all students who might be eligible, and unserved students could continue to face difficulties preparing for a future of meaningful postsecondary education or employment.”

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