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What Coronavirus Relief Funding for K–12 Education Means for SEL Programs in Schools

What Coronavirus Relief Funding for K–12 Education Means for SEL Programs in Schools

This is a brief designed to inform education professionals about the federal money available for funding essential programming for helping students recover and thrive as they reenter schools from a year disrupted by COVID-19.

From the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, signed into law by President Biden on March 11, $122.8 billion has been allocated for K–12 education. The coronavirus relief funds in the American Rescue Plan are purposely vast, as the main goal is to provide schools with the necessary resources to get students back to in-person classrooms safely. One such necessity many schools and districts are considering is using resources for counseling and addressing the social-emotional learning (SEL) needs of students, as well as their academic needs.

In our previous blog post on the American Rescue Plan, we discussed each federally funded relief package rolled out in response to COVID-19 as they related to school funding, how they differ, what the money can be used for, and why partnering with the right digital learning partner matters. In this post, let’s take a closer look at how these funds can be used specifically for SEL resources, why this initiative is critical to student success, and how Edmentum can help.

How to Use Federal Funding

The federal government has provided three major coronavirus relief packages that provide funding for education. This funding can be used for a range of costs. In addition to purchasing educational technology and safety equipment, it can be used for providing mental health services and supports, such as counseling and addressing the SEL needs of students.

The American Rescue Plan states that a percentage of funds must be used to address learning loss and ensure that interventions respond to students’ academic, social, and emotional needs. Simply put, there is a demand to address not only the learning loss directly related to academic success and performance but also “nonacademic” learning loss that occurs when the social and emotional needs of students are met.

Comprehensive strategies to address academic and nonacademic learning loss must include both core academic strategies and a robust SEL program. Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, districts will have the funding needed to make both a reality. For more information about specific state guidance, please visit the NCSL’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund Tracker or your state education agency’s (SEA’s) website.

What Coronavirus Relief Funding for K–12 Education Means for SEL Programs in Schools

How Schools Obtain Funding

The process of obtaining funds varies by state, so checking with this tool from the National Conference of State Legislatures or your SEA will be the best method to determine the specific process. Regardless of whether plans are built for extending the school year; returning students back to the physical classroom safely; or continuing to support virtual, hybrid, or other learning models, there are similarities in most SEA implementation plans. Typically, SEAs are looking for information on:

  1. Why a school needs funds
  2. How the funds will be used
  3. What the evidence base is for how the funds are being used
  4. How the initiative will be managed and evaluated

Some states allow coronavirus relief funding to be used either explicitly for SEL, or they may cover social and mental health gaps stemming from extended school closures under a broader category of “nonacademic learning loss.”

Why Schools Need Funds for SEL Gaps

Following a year of isolation, many students are coping with anxiety and depression, as well as feeling disconnected from their routines and support systems. Many students have experienced taxing events such as watching parents lose jobs; losing loved ones to COVID-19; caring for younger siblings while completing their own schoolwork; or mourning the loss of events such as extracurricular activities, social events, and rites of passage like graduations. Federal relief funding can’t repair the impact COVID-19 has had on students, but it can aid in the recovery—both academically and emotionally.

How Schools Can Use Funds for SEL and Mental Health

When administrators are building plans for returning to learning programs, schools may use federal relief funds to help all students, especially those who have experienced trauma and feel disconnected from their peers. Supporting mental wellness is increasingly becoming of equal importance to accelerating academic growth, as it also ties directly to academic success. When students have effective and supportive SEL programming, research has shown they have a significantly higher probability of performing well on academics.

Local education agencies (LEAs) have a great deal of latitude in determining what is best for their individual community in terms of curricula, assessments, professional development, additional staff, and other supplemental services. They should create detailed plans based on the needs of their community for their SEA. These plans should include sustained, multiyear solutions that are supported with appropriate staff, training, and support. Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds are non-renewable and SEAs must award to LEAs within one year of receiving state allocation, allowing districts to plan carefully over a period of time.

How Research Supports the Need for SEL in Schools

Research is clear that students who are in a state of mental crisis cannot learn unless they have a restored sense of safety and connection. This is one of the reasons funding dollars are available for SEL. A 2017 meta-analysis conducted by CASEL found that students exposed to SEL programming demonstrated a 13-percent advantage in academic performance over students not involved in SEL programming. Robert Marzano’s 2003 book What Works in Schools states that safe and orderly classrooms are critical to the learning process. As students return to classrooms, teachers should recognize this and expect behavioral disruptions following such an extended period of remote learning, coupled with the effects of quarantine. SEL is critical to intervening and preventing these types of interruptions in a compassionate and holistic fashion.

Selecting the Right Program Matters

Edmentum has partnered with BASE Education, a program for grades 1– 12 that can support your teachers and students in meeting essential SEL and mental health needs. BASE Education is the only fully digital SEL solution that is CASEL-approved, with courses designed to be used in different settings to best meet diverse student needs. For students in grades 1–5, video courses are accessed by teachers on demand in a group setting and they include educator guides with versatile lesson plans, activities, and printables. Students in grades 6–12 can experience courses individually on a device or in a group setting led by an adult. All BASE Education courses include educator guides with suggested discussion questions, additional activities, and specific suggestions for tying content to core material. Most importantly, versions of the courses geared for adults can be used for vital teacher and staff training, as well as for parents and community members. BASE Education meets two of the intended criteria for ESSER funding as a nonacademic resource, as well as supporting remote learning for all students.

Looking for more information regarding the funding coming to schools as a result of the American Rescue Plan? Check out our blog post, What support’s in President Biden’s American Rescue Plan for Schools?, where we unpack the education funding landscape. If you’re ready to see how Edmentum can help support the whole learner, head over to our BASE Education partnership page to see our social-emotional learning curriculum offerings.

The federal funding landscape can be daunting to navigate, so we created this Federal Funding Crosswalk to help state and local education agencies align their priorities to federal funding streams. This chart provides a crosswalk of the allowable uses and flexibility of activities authorized by a variety of federal funding sources and includes specific references to each act’s language as it pertains to the desired solution. Check it out!

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Jen Perry

Jen Perry currently serves as the Director, Whole Learning and SEL at Edmentum. Jen joined Edmentum as the Learning Designer for Social-Emotional Learning after 30+ years of work with youth in educational and community settings. As a teacher, administrator, and trainer, her passion has been to help educators develop an understanding of the importance of social and emotional learning and build trauma-informed responses and systems. This work has included supporting youth, administrators, and schools in understanding behavior and implementing transformational change through strength-based approaches.

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Laura Porter-Jones

Laura Porter-Jones has worked as a teacher and administrator in public, private, charter, parochial, and international schools for over 25 years. In her current role as an Education Consultant for Edmentum, she puts that experience to use helping schools and districts utilize Edmentum programs to best meet student needs. Laura holds a B.A. in Drama and Religion from Kenyon College and an M.A. in Educational Administration and Supervision from the University of Phoenix.