MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

February 10, 2013

Jobs Corps frozen enrollment draws opposition

Local NAACP to weigh joining in effort to reverse program freeze

— A local NAACP leader said the local branch likely will join the state conference in an effort to lift a temporary enrollment freeze at Job Corps Centers nationwide.

The mandatory suspension announced by the U.S. Department of Labor affects 125 programs nationwide. Officials with the Cherokee Nation, which operates one of four Job Corps Centers in Oklahoma, said potential cuts to the program could prove “detrimental to our area.”

The moratorium for Job Corps enrollment began Jan. 28 and is projected to end June 30. Federal labor officials said the decision to suspend enrollment at its Job Corps Centers, which provide educational and vocational training to at-risk youth, was necessary due to budget cuts.

Anthony Douglas, president of the Oklahoma State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, announced a letter-writing campaign earlier this month. In a sample letter, Douglas urges congressional representatives to convince labor department officials to reverse the suspension of Job Corps enrollments.

“Disadvantaged youth in our communities are paying the price for (the agency’s) irresponsible fiscal management,” Douglas states in the letter. “This ill-conceived decision means that nationwide 10,000 youth that have been waiting to get into the Job Corps programs are being turned away and another 20,000 may ultimately be denied entry over the coming months.”

Douglas points out in his letter that Job Corps students work with employers throughout Oklahoma. Several end up being hired, Douglas said, becoming tax-paying citizens. As a result, cuts to Job Corps programs could impact not only those students denied enrollment but the “economics of our state” as well.

Diane Kelley, executive director of the Cherokee Nation’s career services division, said Talking Leaves Job Corps presently serves 262 students. It was unknown this week how many applications might be denied as a result of the enrollment freeze.

“Potential cuts to Talking Leaves Jobs Corps could be detrimental to our area,” Kelley said. “We are prohibited from recruiting or accepting any new students.”

Derrick Reed, president of the NAACP’s Muskogee branch, said he will present to local members during its next meeting the opportunity to join the nationwide initiative. He said Job Corps is a “vitally  important” tool to combat unemployment and crime.

“Not everybody is college material, and Job Corps provides educational and training opportunities to those individuals,” Reed said. “Without an education or a job, it leads to poverty and crime — this is a good tool that can help save our youth.”

A summary of the U.S. Department of Labor’s budget for fiscal year 2013 outlines reform efforts it says will strengthen the Job Corps program. Those efforts, according to the document, could include closings of “chronically low-performing Job Corps Centers.”

Actual closings would be based upon “specific criteria that will be shared with the public in advance.” The budget summary states while most centers meet program standards, there are some where educational and employment outcomes have failed to meet expectations for many years.

A 2010 performance evaluation of Job Corps Centers showed the Talking Leaves program exceeded the national average for four of the 14 outcome criteria measured. Those categories included graduate full-time placement and six-month average weekly earnings.

The Cherokee Nation program was near the national average in two other categories and fell below the national average in eight others.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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