In March 2020, the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law to help states and localities survive through the first pandemic anyone in this country has ever been through. Districts, for the most part, have received, allocated, and spent their CARES dollars in the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. However, under the CARES Act, states are allowed to keep up to 10% of those funds for statewide initiatives—and several of these states have included provisions for mental health supports and/or social and emotional learning (SEL).
Here are the states focusing portions of their state set-asides on SEL and mental health supports, and how those set-asides will be used:
- Connecticut: Addressing social and emotional well-being.
- Minnesota: The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) intends to use its 10% set-aside to assist LEAs that did not receive funds under the 90% ESSER funds formula allocation. The amount LEAs receive will be based on the number of free and reduced lunch eligible students. Funds may be used for: academic summer learning in order to address student learning gaps, technology staffing and training, and mental health services and supports.
- Nebraska: Creating or expanding mental, behavioral, and social-emotional supports.
- New Jersey: Supporting competitive grants for LEAs prioritizing activities that address learning loss in students, the need for additional summer instruction, compensatory education for students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), SEL, and support for students experiencing homelessness.
- New Mexico: The state will spend 19% of their state set-aside on SEL supports.
- North Carolina: Funding student support workers and professionals to address social-emotional needs.
- Rhode Island: The State Education Agency shall develop a resource compendium of evidence-based strategies for remediating gaps in learning and addressing the mental health and wellness of students during and after distance learning.
- Tennessee: Mental health and community resources.
- Utah: Providing professional learning for teacher leaders, creating open education digital modules, and providing resources for additional mental health services in transition back to school.
- Wyoming: Improving SEL infrastructure.
Some states have clearly labeled a percentage or dollar amount going specifically to mental health and SEL, but many are still in the planning process. In every state, there are many competing priorities for these funds. It is a critical time for advocacy to ensure the dollars are used for the social and emotional health of students.
Beginning Steps for Advocacy
If you would like to advocate for the use of these state set-asides, the first thing to do is contact your local state representative and state senator. It is a good time to establish these relationships because most states are not in session right now. After you have made these connections, have them introduce you to the education chairs (if your local rep is not the chair of the education committee). After you’ve met with and know these legislators, the next step is to have them set up a meeting with folks at the Department of Education so that you can advocate for the funds—not as someone out of the blue, but as a trusted ally and resource after you have taken the time to establish these relationships.
The pandemic is increasingly taking a toll on students as they navigate the new world of learning at the same time as adults. Strategy for keeping students safe is one of the most important things to focus on, and these states are leading the charge with working to implement support statewide for every district.
Want to learn more about K-12 funding streams? Join me on October 8 or October 22 at 1:00 PM ET for an exclusive roundtable discussion with a small group of fellow educators. Participation is highly encouraged, so please come ready to ask questions and share your experiences!