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Frequently Asked Questions for YTTs in Washington

January 18, 2017

As the largest nonprofit organization representing yoga teachers and schools, Yoga Alliance has a responsibility to protect the practice and instruction of yoga.

Recently, Yoga Alliance has been contacted by Washington yoga teacher training schools (YTTs) about the licensure and regulation of YTTs by the state's Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board. In recent weeks, we have enjoyed hearing from many of you, and learning more about what is important to you.

We have compiled answers to the most frequently asked questions we have received about the status of YTT regulation in Washington and what Yoga Alliance is doing to support you. We hope these answers are helpful. If your question hasn't been answered or you want to tell us what you think, we'd love to hear from you at yaadvocacy@yogaalliance.org.

What is the Workforce Board?
The Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board licenses and regulates about 325 private career schools doing business in the state of Washington, including a number of YTTs. The agency is directed by statute to regulate "vocational" schools, which typically mean schools providing vocational, technical, or professional training, not every activity or program in the state.

Why are some YTTs regulated? Should they be?
As you know, yoga studios and practitioners host advanced yoga classes that the yoga community often refers to as “yoga teacher training programs” or “YTTs.” Yoga Alliance research indicates that most participants in YTTs attend primarily to deepen their personal practice or practice yoga in a group setting, not to earn a living teaching yoga.

Despite this, some regulators – usually those who are inexperienced with the practice of yoga – believe that YTTs are "career schools" because the community refers to the programs as "teacher training." The problem is that this belief doesn't reflect the reality.

In Washington and across the country, the vast majority of individuals who lead yoga classes are not full-time instructors and do not earn a living from teaching. While some YTT participants go on to teach yoga classes occasionally or a few times each week, next to none make instruction their "career" or make a living just by teaching yoga. As such, YTT programs are best classified as avocational activities, not career schools.

Further, YTT programs do not offer degrees, no grades are assigned, and transcripts are not maintained. YTTs are just different – in purpose and nature – from the career schools that Workforce Board otherwise regulates, including private colleges, universities, and technical institutes.

What about maintaining the quality of yoga instruction?
We agree that the quality of yoga instruction is important. In fact, Yoga Alliance's mission is to promote the integrity and diversity of the teaching of yoga. That's why it's important to be clear about what the Workforce Board does and doesn't do. The Workforce Board's requirements are aimed primarily at administrative compliance. For example, it requires schools to maintain course catalogs, set a grading system, and maintain transcripts; these are requirements that are inapplicable to yoga programs and do not affect the quality of yoga instruction.

Further, Workforce Board requirements regarding instructor qualifications are similarly geared toward academic programs. These requirements do not – and cannot – safeguard the quality of yoga instruction because the Workforce Board has no expertise in the instruction and practice of yoga.

What about consumer protection?
We agree that the Workforce Board serves a laudable purpose in its mission to protect students of private career schools. But the Workforce Board was created to address concerns that are unique to private career schools. These concerns do not apply to every business that provides a service, group activity, or instruction to participants.

This is why the Workforce Board does not – and is not supposed to – regulate every business in the state. Indeed, the Workforce Board has not sought to regulate advanced martial arts, dance, arts, or sports classes. Furthermore, we’re unaware of any consumer concerns lodged with the Board about Washington YTTs that would require more governmental oversight for YTTs than other similar programs.

What's more, YTTs – as businesses providing services to consumers – already comply with an array of federal, state, and local consumer protection, anti-unfair-trade-practices, business, and premises safety laws and regulations, just like every other Washington business. Nothing that happens with the Workforce Board regulations would change the existing framework of consumer protections.

But aren't regulations just a normal part of doing business?
No. Washington is in the minority here. The majority of states are not actively regulating YTTs as occupational schools.

In states without this type of regulatory environment, there has not been an influx of poorly run YTTs or consumer complaints. And, in states that have recently rolled back regulatory requirements – like Illinois and Michigan in 2016 and Colorado in 2015 – we have not seen a significant rise in the number of YTT programs offered in the state.

The difference is that YTTs in those states aren’t required to pay fees and meet administrative requirements while the Washington YTTs who are currently licensed by the Board are.

Why is the yoga community concerned?
Yoga Alliance shares the concerns of many members of Washington’s yoga community that regulating YTTs as "career" schools is unnecessary and harmful to yoga schools, teachers, and consumers.

As you know, most YTTs are small businesses, and the majority are owned and operated by women. The time and expense to comply with Workforce Board mandates (e.g., fees ranging into the thousands of dollars; mandatory surety bond; ongoing annual renewal applications) are burdensome and have a detrimental effect on independent studios. Overregulation of yoga businesses dissuades Washington's yoga providers from offering or expanding YTT programs, even as yoga becomes more popular in the state.

Moreover, the Workforce Board's extensive and expensive regulations inherently favor large, established studios, potentially creating an unfair advantage for larger businesses and establishing a barrier to entry for small, independent yoga entrepreneurs. We also note that the Board has been arbitrary in its application of its licensure requirements to YTTs; only a relative few YTTs are currently subject to licensure.

Because YTTs should not be classified as "career schools" in the first place, these regulatory burdens are not accompanied by tangible benefits to schools or consumers.

What is Yoga Alliance doing about this?
We've taken your concerns to heart and have already begun working on your behalf to protect Washington’s YTTs. We have assembled a team on the ground, and we have been in contact with Washington regulators and legislators to make sure the yoga community is heard.

We're pleased to support recently introduced legislation in the Washington House and Senate to exempt YTTs from mandatory licensure requirements. The purpose of this legislation is to clarify that YTTs are not like the private career schools that the state is supposed to be regulating, and that yoga programs have different needs than those addressed by the Workforce Board. Our legislation would make it so YTTs are not required to become licensed but nothing would preclude YTTs from seeking a license if they want one.

What happens next in Washington? How can I get involved? How can I share my thoughts?

Over the coming weeks, we will continue working with you to protect the rights of YTTs and support a thriving yoga community in Washington, but we’ll need your support.

We'll keep you up to date on major developments and opportunities to get involved, share your experiences, and make your voices heard to Washington's decision makers. We also want to hear from you. If you have questions, concerns, or want to let us know what you think, please reach out at yaadvocacy@yogaalliance.org.

What else is Yoga Alliance working on?
For more on Yoga Alliance’s activities in other states and around the world, please view our Advocacy page.

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