SEL in the ESEA: Committee for Children and Friends in Washington, DC

by Karen Besserman, Advocacy Strategist

On May 14, 2015, we were lucky to be joined in Washington, DC, by social-emotional learning (SEL) leaders from around the country to lobby their U.S. Senators. What was the ask, you ask? We want the Senate to include social-emotional learning in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, formerly No Child Left Behind).

We're off to a promising start: Republicans and Democrats in the Senate were able to unanimously pass a draft of a compromise ESEA bill. Our colleagues, SEL practitioners from Florida, Maine, Minnesota, North Carolina, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin, each met with their two U.S. Senators and asked them to support an amendment Senator Blumenthal (D-CT) will be offering when the ESEA is heard on the floor of the Senate in mid-June. The amendment, if passed, will define SEL and allow funding for teacher and principal training to be used for SEL programming.

But don't worry, we have a backup plan: If it looks like the amendment will not pass during the Senate debate, participants have also asked that the committee report accompanying the ESEA bill mention the importance of SEL. (In case you're wondering, a “committee report” is a written explanation that accompanies legislation, providing background information highlighting and reinforcing certain issues in the bill itself.) The report language we're requesting was developed in collaboration with the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL):

In order to improve students' safety, health, well-being and academic achievement, the Committee acknowledges the scientific research that shows that getting the best outcomes for students requires building nonacademic skills such as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. These skills are teachable, promote healthy behaviors and help students succeed in school, careers and life.

The full Senate is set to debate the ESEA in early June, and if the bill passes the Senate and House will need to meet to hash out the differences in their two bills.