Committee for Children Blog

Everything You Need to Know About ESSA: Part 1 of 3


This is the first of three blog posts that focus on how the new federal education law, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), will affect the work of Committee for Children. 

Committee for Children (CFC) and its advocacy partners were pleasantly surprised when the U.S. Congress was able to garner bipartisan support to pass the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) late last year. The bill replaces the outdated No Child Left Behind Act and includes many of the provisions we’ve championed over the years with our partners. 

ESSA is a tremendous opportunity to expand and strengthen social-emotional learning (SEL) programs in K–12 schools across the country. SEL programs teach children self-control, to resolve conflicts, to work with others, and to make responsible decisions and avoid risky behaviors. Research shows SEL programs can have a positive impact on school success and promote a host of academic and other benefits for students.

Committee for Children has actively encouraged lawmakers to embed SEL provisions in federal policy related to youth and families. It organized and sponsored two different briefings for Congressional staff to ensure they understood the importance of SEL in helping students succeed in school and in life. Last May, Committee for Children hosted a mini “Advocacy Day” on Capitol Hill and brought in SEL practitioners from around the country to meet with staff of the U.S. House and U.S. Senate committees with jurisdiction over education policy. Committee for Children is thankful and encouraged that ESSA includes many of the provisions it championed over the years. 


Key provisions in ESSA related to the work of Committee for Children are:


Each state will be empowered to create its own school accountability system and must include at least one “nonacademic” factor in the new system. There are a whole host of measures that could be included, such as attendance and graduation rates, climate and culture measures, and SEL competencies.

Student Support and Academic Enrichment

ESSA authorizes a new $1.65 billion block grant designed to go out to all schools based on a formula (similar to the old Safe and Drug Free Schools program). Grants are to “improve conditions for learning in order to create a healthy and safe school environment.” The law specifically highlights bullying prevention, along with programs that develop relationship-building skills and effective communication.

Early Education

ESSA includes a new $250 million preschool program that will be jointly administered by U.S. Department of HHS and U.S. Department of Education.

Sexual Abuse Prevention

Several funding streams within ESSA specifically indicate funds can and should be used for “child sexual abuse awareness and prevention, including how to recognize child sexual abuse and how to discuss child sexual abuse with a child.”

Lowest-Performing Schools

ESSA mandates that states must identify the lowest performing 5% of schools (using the assessment system mentioned above) and then use evidence-based programs to implement improvement strategies.

It’s important that the new flexibility given to states doesn’t result in subgroups of disadvantaged students being overlooked. At a hearing on ESSA implementation earlier this year, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) stressed the importance of making sure the government continues to provide appropriate “guardrails” to ensure all students receive a quality education. Committee for Children agrees.

Congressional passage of ESSA is just the first step in implementing the new law. The U.S. Department of Education has started the process of rulemaking that will be used to finalize new regulations under ESSA. The next blog post will provide more details on ESSA implementation and the role you can play at the local and state level in advocating for SEL.

Continue reading: Everything You Need to Know About ESSA: Part 2 of 3

Guest blogger Jon Terry has contributed this series. Jon Terry is president of Capitol Youth Strategies LLC and is an advocacy consultant for Committee for Children. He is a former Congressional staffer and also served as head of federal government relations in the YMCA of the USA’s office in Washington, DC.