SEL Policy at the Federal Level

Federal policies play a role in creating supportive environments and rich learning experiences.

Federal policy in the United States plays a key role in creating conditions that support statewide and districtwide implementation of social and emotional learning (SEL) so all students can benefit.

At CASEL, we engage policymakers and promote legislation at the federal level to advance evidence-based SEL policies that support local efforts.

This page shares information about key federal legislation and policies related to SEL: American Rescue Plan (ARP), Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and SEL in workforce policies. To explore recent bills in support of SEL, visit publications on SEL federal policy.

We need to address inequities in education and we need better pathways to success… [which requires recognizing that students’ social and emotional learning] is just as important as their academic growth.
Miguel Cardona
US Secretary of Education

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARP)

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The $123 billion infusion to K-12 education in the American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act of 2021 represents an unprecedented opportunity to invest in SEL.

ARP includes support for students’ learning and development, educator well-being, family and community partnerships, and more inclusive and equitable learning environments. The historic levels of K-12 dollars can provide a long-term foundation for evidence-based, systemic implementation of SEL. Looking for recommendations on building sustained impact and where to spend? Read about three high priority investments below and in our policy brief for state and district leaders.

    • As districts and states plan how to accelerate learning, engage students, and promote mental health, they should focus ARP investments on:

      • Evidence-based and culturally-affirming SEL programs and practices. State Spotlight: Massachusetts offers explicit guidance, including districts that have engaged in effective SEL implementation
      • Expanded learning opportunities that integrate social, emotional, and academic learning across in-school and out-of-school time

      View our first State Bright Spots brief for real examples of how states are leveraging ARP funds to promote SEL for all students.

    • To effectively support students, adults need to focus on their own social and emotional competencies, and to feel connected and valued. ARP investments can:

      • Support well-being for educators, staff, and out-of-school time providers
      • Provide job-embedded professional learning that builds educator capacity
      • Establish statewide communities of practice across disciplines. State Spotlight: In Delaware, policymakers, practitioners, and youth are coming together to integrate SEL with workforce preparedness and academic content areas.
    • A focus on SEL can coordinate aligned efforts that leverage school and community assets to fully support the social, emotional, behavioral, and mental health needs of students and families. This is a key opportunity to rethink education assessment systems to more holistically measure students’ social, emotional, and academic strengths and experiences and continuous improvement efforts. Invest in:

      • Integrated support systems across schools, families, and communities.
      • Data systems that inform students, educators, and families, and support continuous improvement of student outcomes and experiences.
      • Resources that support local education agencies in planning for ARP dollars. State Spotlight: Washington’s guidance includes a planning tool that integrates equity-centered support for SEL and whole child services.

      In addition, we are committed to continuous improvement to ensure that on-the-ground SEL efforts translate to intended influences and outcomes. Consider how funding can be used for system design or redesign: How are SEL efforts currently monitored or measured? Do these measures disaggregate data in a meaningful way? Can measures be inclusive of other academic systems, such as Career and Technical Education (CTE)?

Every Student Succeeds Act

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ESSA authorizes K-12 policy in support of high-quality education and is widely seen as the primary funding source for social, emotional, academic, and civic/career efforts. Provisions in ESSA support SEL through:

  • A broader definition of student success that can include “nonacademic” indicators like student engagement or school safety
  • Language that encourages schools to “establish learning environments and enhance students’ effective learning skills that are essential for school readiness and academic success.”
  • In Title IV, specific recommendations for “activities to support safe and healthy students.”
  • A broader approach to professional development (PD) and learning to make PD “collaborative, job-embedded, data-driven, and classroom focused.”
  • Support personnel to develop improvement plans that address school climate and safety, as well as students’ mental and behavioral health.
  • Replaced requirements of the former “No Child Left Behind” law and gave power to states and districts in creating their school improvement plans, which can include social and emotional growth.
  • Established a program to support and scale up evidence-based practices that encourage innovation in policy and practice.

SEL in Workforce Policies

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Policymakers are thoughtfully and explicitly applying SEL across systems to ensure integration and cohesiveness, including in support of workforce preparation and career readiness.

    • State policymakers have a special role in developing comprehensive local needs assessment guidance, including provisions that authentically engage communities in the development of plans and the inclusion of SEL as part of skill building pathways. Consider:

      • Including evidence based SEL and professional learning in CTE and educator learning
      • Equity-focused SEL policies support measurement and evaluation of program effectiveness
      • Infusing academic efforts with evidence based SEL programming to strengthen human development skills prior to and upon entry into the workforce
    • WIOA identifies the value of human development, civic life, and communication skills as critical components of Youth Program Elements. Leaders can:

      • Ensure evidence-based SEL are implemented as part of Youth Program efforts
      • Empower youth to serve on local workforce investment boards and provide input on policies and practices that impact them
      • Ensure secondary and post secondary partners are strengthening adult SEL competence in the use of high quality practices to serve youth

How is CASEL advancing this work?

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Congressional Briefings and Conversations

As a leading voice on SEL, we are committed to working with the U.S. Department of Education and engaging federal policymakers to help broaden awareness and understanding of SEL.

  • We organize and speak at annual congressional briefings to inform members of Congress and their staff about SEL, in partnership with the Committee for Children. Through these events, we lift up the voices of leading practitioners, researchers, and policymakers and cover key topics such as teacher preparation and employability skills.
  • We participate in work groups with the U.S. Department of Education, including most recently on a workgroup to support the transition back to school.
  • We provide Congressional offices with information, research, and feedback on key pieces of legislation and reauthorization in support of SEL and workforce preparation.

National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development (NCSEAD)

In 2016, the National Commission on Academic, Social, and Emotional Development joined us in efforts to unify the country around the importance of an integrated vision of SEL and academics. Led by two of our board members, Linda Darling-Hammond and Tim Shriver, and informed with input from the field, a comprehensive set of findings and recommendations were released which includes the final report, From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope.

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