Committee for Children Blog

Out-of-School Time and Social-Emotional Learning: A Federal Policy & Funding Review

Children walking after school for out-of-school time

Written by guest blogger Erik Peterson, vice president of policy for the Afterschool Alliance, a nonprofit public awareness and advocacy organization working to ensure that all children and youth have access to quality after-school and summer learning programs, from which some of this material is taken.

Congress’ late summer recess is wrapping up, so it’s a good time for an update on federal policy related to social-emotional learning (SEL), especially the learning that happens when school has just begun and young people are looking forward to new opportunities to grow, learn, and have fun. Let’s look at the funding status of a few key federal programs that support SEL through after-school and summer learning programs, as well as recent federal legislation.

Federal Funding for SEL and After-School Care

When Congress returns in September, the first thing on their agenda will be passing fiscal year 2020 spending bills. The House of Representatives passed all twelve of their spending bills earlier this year. The Senate waited on a budget deal, now signed into law, and will likely start by reviewing the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education appropriations, proposed in H.R.2740, in early September.

Although the Senate will likely have fewer funds to work with than the House did for H.R.2740, it’s useful to take a look at the House’s funding levels for a few key funding streams that support SEL both in and out of school:

  • 21st Century Community Learning Centers: Current funding level is $1.222 billion; the proposed House level: $1.322 billion—a $100 million increase. Through a competitive funding process in each state, this money funds local school- and community-based after-school and summer-learning programs that focus on positive youth development and SEL.
  • Title IV Full Service Community Schools: The House bill provides $40 million, an increase from $17.5 million, to provide comprehensive services and expand evidence-based models that meet the holistic needs of children, families, and communities.
  • Title IV Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) Grants: The proposed $1.3 billion marks an increase of $150 million above the 2019 level. SSAE funds, established under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), support activities that provide students with a well-rounded education, ensure safe and supportive learning environments, and use technology to improve instruction.
  • Career, Technical Education (CTE): $1.3 billion, an increase of 3 percent, would go to implementation of the Perkins V CTE legislation that passed last year, focusing on employability skills.

The House bill also funds programs that address SEL within the Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies:

  • Child Care and Development Block Grant: $7.7 billion, an increase of $2.4 billion. In addition to supporting child care for children up to age five, the funds go to after-school programs that focus on health and safety for nearly a million children.
  • Community Services Block Grant: $760 million, an increase of $35 million. These funds can be used by local jurisdictions to support a number of programs including after-school and youth-development efforts.
  • Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program: $110 million, an increase of $9 million above the fiscal year 2019 level. This evidence-based program supports after-school pregnancy prevention programs.
  • Various mental health resources for children and youth, including $84 million for Project AWARE, an increase of $13 million; and $71 million for the National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative, an increase of $7 million.
  • Corporation for National and Community Service: $1.14 billion, an increase of $55 million above the 2019 level. This group supports AmeriCorps and VISTA, which are key assets for hundreds of after-school SEL programs.
  • Youth Mentoring Initiative: $100 million to increase opportunities for youth to have mentors and improve the quality of the mentoring they receive.

Of note, the bill provides $260 million for a Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) initiative to support SEL and “whole child” approaches to education. The bill provides:

  • $170 million within the Education Innovation and Research program to go toward grants for evidence-based, field-initiated innovations that address student social, emotional, and cognitive needs
  • $25 million within the Supporting Effective Educator Development (SEED) grant program for teacher professional development and pathways into teaching that provide a strong foundation in child development and learning, including skills for implementing SEL strategies
  • $25 million within the School Safety National Activities program to make schools safer through a new competition that will help local educational agencies (LEAs) directly increase the number of mental health and child development experts in schools. The $40 million for community schools is also included in the SEL initiative

Advocates are working to support these priorities in the Senate bill—and in any negotiation that occurs between House and Senate versions of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education appropriations bill this summer.

Federal Legislation on Social-Emotional Learning and Out-of-School Time

Though the appropriations process may take up much of the oxygen for Congress this fall, several newly introduced bills that cover the intersection of SEL and out of school time are worth watching through the rest of the 116th session of Congress.

  • RISE from Trauma Act (S 1770/HR 3180): This bipartisan, bicameral legislation (full summary) addresses community trauma, adds more training for a trauma-informed workforce, and increases trauma-informed services for high-risk populations (to include community-based providers). It “includes provisions to support local coordinating and action bodies to address community trauma and a Performance Partnership Pilot that would test programs to braid funding to increase trauma-informed services for high-risk populations. The bill authorizes $50 million over four years (2020-23) in grants not to exceed $4 million to ‘state, county, local, or Indian tribe or tribal organizations…or nonprofit private entities for demonstration projects to enable such entitles to act as coordinating bodies to address community trauma.’ . . . Workforce enhancement to increase the number of trained practitioners to provide trauma-informed mental health services to children [is also included].”1
  • Mental Health Services for Students Act of 2019 (S 1122/HR 1109): This legislation “would increase access to evidence-based comprehensive mental health programs for the nation’s youth in local schools and communities. The bill would build on youth-focused programs that incorporate promising practices in education, social services, local primary health care, and trauma-informed behavioral health care to help communities take action to help youth and adolescents in need.”2
  • Success in the Middle Act of 2019 (S 1704/HR 3089): This bill “provide[s] grants to states to ensure that all students in the middle grades are taught an academically rigorous curriculum with effective supports so that students complete the middle grades prepared for success in secondary school and postsecondary endeavors, including social and emotional supports, and to improve State and local educational agency policies and programs relating to the academic achievement of students in the middle grades, to develop and implement effective middle grades models for struggling students, and for other purposes.”3
  • PREP Act of 2019 (S 752): The bipartisan bill would “expand the definition of ‘high need’ districts under he Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to include those experiencing teacher shortages in rural communities as well as in areas like special education, English language, science, technology, engineering, math, and CTE [career and technical education], to allow for access to additional support and improvement. It would also encourage school districts to create partnerships, including Grow Your Own programs, with local community colleges and universities to ensure their programs are educating future teachers in areas where there is a shortage of educators. It would increase access to teacher and school leader residency programs and preparation training. And it requires states to identify areas of teacher or school leader shortages by subject across public schools and use that data to target their efforts.”4

Public Voice Raised for Childhood Trauma Support

In addition to the legislative activity in this area, discussion about the need for strong social and emotional supports for children has grown this year. For example, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform held in early July what may be the first Congressional hearing on childhood trauma. “Trauma survivors, public health experts, and government officials [spoke about] the long-term consequences of childhood trauma and the insufficiency of the federal response to this urgent public health issue.”5 The expert witnesses included Dr. Debra Houry, director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, on behalf of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who “mentioned after-school programs as a protective factor . . . when asked by Rep. Carol Miller (R-WV) about ways to mitigate childhood trauma resulting from the effects of the opioid crisis on families and communities.”6

How You Can Add Your Support

As an advocate of social-emotional learning and after-school programs, you can contact your senators to convey your support for these initiatives.

Additionally, if you represent a youth-serving program, consider inviting your elected officials for a site visit while your policymakers are in town when Congress is in recess or during the twentieth annual Lights On Afterschool on October 24.

Research References