Committee for Children Blog

Empowering SEL Through Policy and Advocacy

A student communicating with a teacher on a video call.

As schools navigate evolving COVID-19 regulations and transition from distance learning to in-person classrooms, social-emotional learning (SEL) is critical to the monumental task of rebuilding community and social support systems that are inclusive for both students and educators.

Committee for Children’s 2020–2021 policy and advocacy work has been a response to the COVID-19 pandemic and our nation’s reckoning with racial injustice. We took action at both the federal and state levels to address longstanding and emergent needs for SEL.

We were successful in working with Congress to include SEL in the COVID-19 relief legislation and the regular budget appropriations cycle. This effort resulted in historic, dedicated investments in SEL, as well as increases in funding through traditional budget negotiations that support SEL legislation, including Title IV-A and Title I in the Every Student Succeeds Act. The funds are intended to prioritize spending for young people in communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic, such as Black and Indigenous communities.

Working with the United States Department of Education, we contributed to a COVID-19 reopening handbook provided to school districts by the federal government. The handbook instructs schools on how to implement SEL in remote-learning environments and how to use SEL to support the potential mental health needs of students returning to in-person classes. We also provided evidence-based recommendations to the Department of Education for replacing exclusionary discipline with equitable practices, and other ways SEL can advance equity in schools.

On the ground, we led congressional briefings, collaborated with national coalitions and campaigns, negotiated with multiple congressional offices, and collaborated with field allies—all to serve young people and educators during these unprecedented times.

At the state level, our advocacy efforts focused on Florida, Indiana, and Washington State. We protected SEL in Florida’s Mental Health Assistance Allocation and laid the groundwork for a crisis- and violence-prevention campaign in the next legislative session. We championed legislation that required evidence-based SEL to be included in Indiana’s teacher-prep programs, as aligned with the state’s SEL standards. And in Washington State, we successfully led efforts to include historic SEL investments in the state budget and to establish an equity focus within the state’s SEL framework.

As SEL gains national recognition, it’s also become politicized by and within some groups. To counter misconceptions about what SEL is and how it works, we will continue to keep it at the front and center of educational discussions, and strategize how to best elevate and promote its benefits. We’ve tracked and analyzed the political strategies and associated campaigns against SEL and are prepared to face these challenges in the coming year. SEL-based education is acclaimed and widely accepted, but it is still fragile. We, and all SEL advocates, are committed to moving it from fragile to agile.

We need your voice now more than ever to protect the critical work of supporting the social-emotional development and well-being of young people through SEL. Sign up today to be an advocate and stay tuned for opportunities to act.