Advocacy in Action

Committee for Children Before the Pandemic and Now

We can now divide Committee for Children’s advocacy efforts into a before-and-now: before the pandemic, and now that it’s upon us.

The Before

Committee for Children led the way to advance social-emotional learning (SEL) policy in several states—including Washington, Indiana, Florida, and Idaho—in those states’ legislative sessions this year, as discussed below. We didn’t anticipate the pandemic, but because SEL undergirds a spectrum of student mental-wellness supports, it is our sincere hope that our advocacy efforts will help those states now and after the pandemic. Specifically, we hope our efforts position schools and systems in those states to better serve their students with respect to providing mental-wellness supports.

The Now

We’ve worked on Congress’s COVID-19 stimulus packages, emphasizing the need to protect and provide for SEL and mental-wellness supports. We’re also advocating for increased investments in subsequent federal child protection legislation. This blog post provides a brief overview of how the last stimulus package, the CARES Act, serves to protect and provide for SEL and related investments.

Before we dive in, we hasten to add that there will be an after to all this. We believe student mental wellness, which includes SEL, will gain centrality in our policy conversations. Students will have experienced the pandemic just like the rest of us. Most of them will need to re-regulate back into life at school. Some will need more intensive and targeted supports than others. Some will have experienced trauma or adversity. We’re working both on programmatic contributions, as well as policy and advocacy contributions (mentioned in part below), to respond to students’ needs in this moment.

Advocacy Before the Pandemic

Here’s what we fought for in Washington State:

  • HB2816 (SEL model policy for every district), which requires the Washington State School Directors’ Association (WSSDA) to develop model policy and procedure for nurturing a positive social and emotional school classroom climate. This is in service of promoting school district action plans to foster equitable, ethical, social, emotional, and academic education for all students. Model policy and procedure must take into consideration each school’s strengths, needs, and goals; recognize the role of the family; and define elements of a positive social and emotional school and classroom environment in alignment with the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) SEL standards and benchmarks. Model policies and procedures will be posted to WSSDA’s website by March 2021. School districts shall adopt consistent policy and procedure for promoting a positive school and classroom climate by the 2021–2022 school year.
  • SB6191 (surveying students on their adverse childhood experiences), which requires a statewide “healthy youth survey” to include questions to students about adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) in order to improve student services, including improving trauma-informed practices that dovetail with SEL.
  • SB2737 (including SEL in the scope of the mental health workgroup), which updates the children’s mental health group to improve access to SEL for young children prenatal to five, and convenes an advisory group, of which Committee for Children will be a part, on school-based behavioral health and suicide prevention.  

Here’s what we fought for in Indiana:

SB273 (reviewing behavioral health prevention), which establishes the Indiana Behavioral Health Commission. The commission will, among other things, inventory and assess evidence-based prevention programs (including SEL programs) in schools and in the mental health care system.

HB1283 (improving trauma informed practice education for teachers), which requires education and training on trauma-response instruction and the recognition of signs that a student may be reacting to trauma as part of initial teacher licensure. It further requires teacher preparation programs to include training on trauma response instruction and recognition of social, emotional, and behavioral reactions to trauma that may interfere with students’ academic functioning.   

Here’s what we fought for in Florida:

HB5001 (prioritizing SEL in school safety and mental health), which protects $100 million for student mental health, including SEL. For schools to receive those funds, they first need to write Tier I solutions (such as SEL) into their school safety plans.

Here’s what we fought for in Idaho:

H627 (begins statewide behavioral wellness work), which provides for professional development around behavioral health and wellness for K–12 students, as well as provides for further development and framework for behavioral health and wellness statewide.

We’ve also contributed in a lighter fashion to legislation in other states that’s aligned with Committee for Children’s mission. These states include Alabama, Arizona, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, New York, Oklahoma, Virginia, and West Virginia. The details of those contributions exceed the scope of this blog post.

Advocacy During the Pandemic

Congress’s stimulus package negotiations have taken center stage during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve been fighting for myriad supports for K–12 generally, and more specifically in the areas of SEL, student mental wellness, and child protection. The third stimulus, the CARES Act, HR 748 (Division B), is where we’ve spent most of our efforts. Here’s a breakdown of stimulus funds conducive to supporting SEL and related investments vital during this time.

K–12 Education

  • $13.5 billion (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, p. 147) for formula-grants to states to distribute to local education agencies (LEAs) for long-term closure planning, coordination, and resources, purchasing educational technologies, activities to address unique needs faced by low-income or other marginalized student groups, mental health services, summer learning, early childhood, and any activity under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Perkins, and McKinney-Vento (Title VII, subtitle B)
  • $3 billion to governors in each state (Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, p. 145) for emergency support to LEAs most impacted by coronavirus to continue to provide educational services, support higher education and early childhood education, and social and emotional support
  • $100 million to supplement Project SERV (School Emergency Response to Violence) grants (p.159), which includes assistance in counseling and distance learning.

Early Childhood Supports

  • $3.5 billion for Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG)
  • $750 million for Head Start to sustain staffing needs
  • Small Business Assistance (SBA) for childcare providers, including some non-profit operations, that are small businesses:
    • $10 billion for SBA emergency grants of up to $10,000 to provide immediate relief for small business operating costs
    • $17 billion for the SBA program to cover six months of payments for small businesses with existing SBA loans (rent, mortgage, and utility costs are eligible for SBA loan forgiveness)
  • $562 million to ensure the SBA program has the resources to provide Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDLs) to businesses and qualifying not-for-profit operations that need financial support, to help businesses keep their doors open and pay their employees, and to help childcare providers get the technical assistance needed to apply for EIDL and loan forgiveness through the SBA program
  • The $3 billion to governors, listed in the K–12 Education section, is also available for early childhood supports

Rural Development

  • $25 million to support Distance Learning and Telemedicine in rural areas.

Education Waiver Provision

  • Section 3511 of the CARES Act (p. 323) allows the secretary to waive certain sections of ESEA for state education agencies (SEAs) and LEAs if necessary and appropriate during the COVID-19 pandemic; any school that receives a waiver and is identified for comprehensive support and improvement or targeted support will maintain that status for school year 2020–2021