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Federal Policy and Social-Emotional Learning

Both houses of Congress are currently working on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which is a revised version of No Child Left Behind. Here’s how social-emotional learning is figuring into the new legislation.


A bipartisan bill reauthorizing ESEA has passed out of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions and is awaiting floor debate and a vote. Social-emotional learning is promoted in the bill in Title IV and Title IX:

  • Title IV—Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students. The purpose of this Title is “to foster positive conditions for learning in public schools, in order to increase academic achievement for all students.” Part C, Section 4302(a) identifies key activities and lists “develop social and emotional competencies.”
  • Title IX—General Provisions. This Title includes ten conditions for learning that "advance student achievement and advance positive child and youth development by supporting schools that promote physical, mental, and emotional health and promote social, emotional, and character development,” including to “help staff and students to model positive social and emotional skills.”


The House of Representatives is taking a more piecemeal approach to the reauthorization. There is one bill working through the House that would embed social-emotional learning into ESEA Title II—Teacher and Principal Preparation and Professional Development.

HR 2437, The Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning Act of 2011, has bipartisan co-sponsorship. This bill makes training to implement programs in social-emotional learning an allowable use of Title II funds for teacher and principal training and professional development. No new funds are required to be allocated by Congress, making this bill more palatable to members of Congress during tough economic times.

Next Steps

If these Senate and House bills pass, a conference committee will be formed to merge House and Senate versions of ESEA reauthorization.

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