Committee for Children Blog

The Biggest 2023 Policy Trends Affecting Student Well-Being

A capitol building.

The new year is often a time of renewal and change, and for educators, it’s a time to reset midway through the academic calendar. In my work as vice president of policy and advocacy at a global nonprofit that helps positively transform the well-being of more than 24.4 million children annually, this January marks a changing of the guard. Legislators elected in the 2022 midterms will be sworn in across the nation, and new legislative sessions will begin. It will be time for those of us in the field of education advocacy to test our mettle by engaging in the deep work of improving student well-being through policy change.

Here are the three biggest policy trends in student well-being I’m predicting we’ll see in 2023 legislative sessions.

School Safety and Violence Prevention

I can’t talk about the trend policies addressing school safety and violence prevention without acknowledging that in 2022 we saw the most school shootings in a single year on record. On top of that, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic kids are showing signs of increased behavioral dysregulation, leading to more altercations between peers and between students and teachers.

I anticipate we’ll see legislators grapple with two approaches to increasing school safety and preventing future violence. The first is “school hardening,” which focuses on physical defenses such as increases in school resource officers and student surveillance, as well as arming educators. The other approach prioritizes practices that address how kids are doing mentally, emotionally, and socially, and that increase supports to improve student well-being.

Mental Health and Wellness

We are still in the midst of a student mental health crisis that has resulted in declarations of emergency  from organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association, as well as an advisory from the US surgeon general. The dire need to address student experiences of trauma and to get a handle on the youth mental health crisis will persist through 2023. The major wave of both federal and state legislation that addresses this issue focuses on increasing bodies in buildings (by hiring more counselors, social workers, and telehealth service providers), but that approach alone will not solve the problem. Some select legislatures are recognizing this reality. I see them moving toward a triage strategy that prioritizes multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) with a special focus on building life skills as part of primary prevention. I’d encourage other legislatures to look toward MTSS and life skill-building to scaffold interventions that can help support children experiencing mental health challenges and increase student resilience. If the country wants to help address the mental health crisis, we need to target the entire community, rather than just those kids who are exhibiting signs of risk, dysregulation, and challenge.

Learning Recovery

The 2022 Nation’s Report Card scores are out, and it’s no surprise that students are not doing as well as we’d like them to do. On average, students are showing worse progress than they have in two decades. In light of these results, I have a word of caution. Now is not the time to put on blinders to the challenges that kids are facing as they reacclimate to their learning environments and get their academic skills closer to grade level. Now is the time to check in on whether they’re being adequately supported, both academically and emotionally . If those two priorities can move together, I believe we’ll be able to set up students for success—not just in the classroom, but throughout life.

How to Get This Work Right

There is clear urgency around these three policy trends, but this urgency is often misplaced because legislatures will gravitate toward reactive “band-aid” solutions that are easier to visualize than proactive, preventive solutions like life skill-building. Yet it is precisely those proactive solutions that can help tie these focus areas together and set up our education polices to adequately support student well-being.

Education policy will be more efficient, fair, and effective if we take the challenges of school safety, student mental health, and learning recovery and relate them to one another. That way, when a lawmaker is trying to build solutions to support learning recovery and writes in policies to support kids emotionally, they won’t forget that they also need to cross-reference that solution to their mental health policies.

By increasing student resilience through life skill-building policies, we have a unique opportunity this legislative session to create synergy in our support for student academic, mental, and emotional well-being. And that is a solution for 2023 that we desperately need.