Job Corps reverses course, begins enrolling students

Shut down by fund shortage, centers to run all summer

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WASHINGTON -- Job Corps centers across the country are starting to reopen their doors to new students this week, three months after closing enrollment to new students because the program was on track to overspend its $1.7 billion budget.

The Department of Labor told contractors who operate the centers that they can start accepting new students immediately as long as they don't exceed numbers in approved enrollment rebuilding plans.

The centers will be allowed to operate continuously through the summer, when they normally close for a two-week break, according to a management directive from Robert W. Pitulej, acting national director of the Office of Job Corps. The change will allow new participants to partially make up for lost time, a Department of Labor spokesman said.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., who has been critical of the department's management of Job Corps, said reopening enrollment is "good news for students in Pennsylvania and around the country as they seek skills needed to successfully enter the workforce." Mr. Casey is chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

The nationwide job training program for at-risk youth and young adults stopped accepting new participants in January because expenses were running 4 percent -- or $61.5 million -- over budget. During a Senate hearing last month, Assistant Labor Secretary Jane Oates blamed the problems on financial missteps and poor monitoring.

In a budget bill last month, Congress agreed to transfer up to $30 million in unobligated funds to Job Corps.

Contractors, meanwhile, have been working to cut costs so enrollment could be reopened more quickly, said Randy Ford, spokesman for the National Job Corps Association, which represents many of the centers' operators.

"The contractors are encouraged that they'll be able to open the doors again to the students who were out in the cold or who were being denied the opportunity" to enroll, Mr. Ford said.

The Department of Labor initially predicted the enrollment freeze could last until June.

In a written statement, acting Labor Secretary Seth D. Harris said he knows the enrollment suspension has been difficult for participants and families. He said the department is committed to ensuring Job Corps operates efficiently so it can continue to provide "life-changing opportunities for thousands of deserving young people each year."

Officials from Career Systems Development Corp., the company that manages nine centers including Pittsburgh's, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Vice president Andrew Carpenter previously said the Pittsburgh center serves up to 650 students at full capacity.

The program offers high school diploma programs, assistance with community college courses, job training, housing and education in life skills at 125 centers nationwide.

Meanwhile, Mr. Casey has called on the Department of Labor's inspector general to investigate the budget problems.

"It is disturbing that financial mismanagement led to a three-month enrollment freeze that prevented students from attending Job Corps and led to job loss at local Job Corp Centers," he said in a written statement. "There are still many unresolved issues to ensure that financial management is improved the highly successful Job Corps program can serve our communities effectively and efficiently."

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Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: tmauriello@post-gazette.com, 1-703-996-9292 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.


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