SEL Advocacy in California
The Alliance has five major targets for our advocacy in the state. They are:
- Legislators, in order to promote funding for SEL development and support for Best Practice Guidelines.
- School District and local government education department decision makers, especially those who have budget authority.
- School Personnel, including teachers, administrators and counselors/psychologist and their professional associations and unions.
- Parents and parent organizations.
- Community and business leaders for joint advocacy.
With each of these targets our methodology is outreach through member and supportive citizen action (calls, emails and office visit delegations to decision makers and legislators) and creating relevant events.
How To Educate Elected Officials – A Bipartisan Endeavor
Here are current bills that deserve our support because they will, in different ways, advance SEL implementation. Also the link below provides fast access to your legislators, so you need only call or write and say “I support the following bills and I ask you to do the same.”
AB 167 seeks to provide more funds for childcare and development services for infants and toddlers.
AB 194 – $1 billion for enlarged early preschool and child care. (Pre-schools are SEL leaders.)
AB 895 – reforms and expands mental health services for youth and would impose a tax of 1% on incomes of $1 million or more.
AB 1196 – Enhances model “county education department community schools” in at-risk regions.
AB 1624 – seeks to provide more funding for monitoring and reporting on what is and isn’t working around school climate and mental health elements such as SEL.
AB 1725 – Makes up for recent cutbacks in after-school programs. (More on this below)
SB 686 – Creates a competition grant program for low-income areas with at-risk youth that includes in its focus “whole child” development from cradle to career.
California has a complex set or instructions, guidelines and resources that tend to support social-emotional learning in state schools either directly or by inference. These leave a lot of wiggle room for local school districts and principals to do little to nothing or to go full-court press – or everything in between those extremes.
As one California county education department board member said recently: “Most of our schools say they have some social-emotional learning programs or practices because it is a buzz word now in education circles. But if you look closely, all they may have is one minor training in one area, if that. That’s not what is needed or what we want to see.”
Comprehensive social-emotional learning enacted with what educators call “fidelity” is a “whole school culture” and “whole child” endeavor. Ideally it means training all teachers and staff in SEL memes and methods, as well as making sure each grade level gets the age-appropriate and situation-appropriate learning that covers all the “core competencies” of SEL.
The majors competencies are emotional awareness and management, how to create and maintain healthy relationships, conflict resolution, the “social awareness” ability to understand and empathize with others, responsible decision making, and effective problem solving.
The Alliance supports advocating with local education officials by calling for (or insisting on) a roadmap plan and timeline for full SEL implementation – and for the funding to support this – and then your following-up to be sure the timeline is honored.
Administrators have a lot of issues to deal with, including choosing the right programs and outside consultants to help them, getting buy-in from stakeholders, making sure the funding is adequate, educating their staffs, adjusting for the reality that they can’t do it all at once and so need a solid rollout plan they stick to, measuring results so they can make adjustments as they go, as well as reporting requirements.
Which is why the easy case for you to make is calling on your local administrators to create and share a plan for comprehensive step-by-step implementation (if they have not done so already), rather than get down into the weeds with them unless you are very knowledgeable about SEL orientation. Their follow-up obligation to SEL advocates and stakeholders would be to report regularly to stakeholders the progress and results, or lack thereof, as they seek to implement the plan.
THAT SAID, HERE ARE SOME OF THE FACTS AND RESOURCES YOU MIGHT FIND HELPFUL AT SOME POINT IN YOUR ADVOCACY.
- In 2014 California enacted what is called the Local Control and Funding Formula (LCFF), which essentially sets breakthrough new guidelines on the apportionment of state education funds to the districts and gave local districts more flexibility on how they were to be used. That flexibility means that administrators can choose to make more money available for SEL.
More recently the state promulgated what is called the Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) as a more descriptive set of concepts for local districts as to the planning and use of their funds and resources. The state described it this way: “The LCAP is a tool for local educational agencies to set goals, plan actions, and leverage resources to meet those goals to improve student outcomes.”
The LCAP set eight areas of priority for school administrators, one of which was highlighting “school climate and connectedness.” LCAP used this terminology to refer to creating a safe climate – which is an entry way to SEL. If you are not satisfied that “school climate” is being addressed locally with SEL, you can report that to the California Dept. of Education (CDE), whose ability to monitor local adoption of SEL on its own under the LCAP guidelines is not great but it has created a special unit it calls the “One System Action Team” to carry out its stated commitment to “aligning a system of supports to better meet the needs of the whole child (from cradle to career).”
- Issued in December, 2017, were State SEL Guideline Principles that affirmed CDE’s growing support for SEL. The guidelines were produced by a special state commission backed by the department, this in conjunction with the Collaborating States Initiative in which several states undertook to develop such principles in unison. While the Guidelines, unlike in many states, have not yet been made mandatory standards by the Legislature nor by CDE, they do provide a useful piece of the roadmap that SEL advocates can use in their local actions.
- In January, the CDE issued an extensive Guide to SEL Resources. Too plentiful to summarize here, the Guide was produced by a cross-agency project team under CDE’s umbrella and itself provides more ammo for SEL advocates because it can help overcome local bureaucratic resistance to adopting comprehensive SEL.
- Coming soon are recommendations to toughen and expand SEL adoption statewide and locally – these from a team that emerged from the original Guidelines Commission. The recommendations are said to cover legislation, changes of language in the codes, a range of grant requirements, support for implementation on the local level, and other germane issues. Our Alliance is likely to back many of the proposals – and especially those dealing with SEL funding and teacher development. Stay tuned for updates.
Setting guidelines or standards doesn’t equal funding implementation, neither at the local nor state level; it’s only a step in the process. No matter the rules, comprehensive implementation with fidelity will require more money from the state and the understanding on the local level that funding choices must prioritize SEL.
The biggest need at the state level is money for teacher and administrator training in SEL and its roll-out as a priority. The second biggest need is funding that each district is mandated to use for other elements of expanding SEL as they see necessary. It’s always useful in advocating to mention that two studies of the benefits of SEL, one by a Columbia University team, found that each $1 spent on SEL saves between $11 and $15 in other education and remedial costs.