The School Social Work Association of America (SSWAA) strongly supports the main purpose of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA): to afford all children an equal opportunity to receive a quality education and, in doing so, close the achievement gap between disadvantaged children and their more advantaged peers. SSWAA believes highly qualified teachers are critical to student achievement; however, if children are not physically, emotionally, and mentally prepared to learn, even the best classroom instruction will not produce the desired results.
School social workers provide direct services to address barriers to learning for all students and provide consultation to other school staff on classroom management and positive behavioral supports. They also link families with school and community resources to help meet students' social, emotional, and mental health needs, so students can be successful in school.
See 2015 SSWAA letters on ESEA legislative language
Safe Healthy and Ready to Learn ESEA letter 11-6-15 FINAL
SHAC ESEA Conference Letter FINAL
SSWAA strongly encourages Congress to consider the following recommendations in its reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).
I. Support the provisions in the "in the Senate-passed bill, S. 1177" regarding school mental health programs and services.
Physical, mental, and social and emotional health are fundamental to the success of students and schools. Healthy students are more ready to learn and achieve academically. Research has consistently and repeatedly shown that teaching and learning are enhanced when schools are safe and supportive. Students who participate in school-based social and emotional learning programs show significant improvement in social and emotional skills, caring attitudes, and positive social behaviors, and a decline in disruptive behavior and emotional distress (Durlak et al., 2011). Interventions that strengthen students’ social, emotional, and decision-making skills also positively impact their academic achievement, both in terms of higher standardized test scores and better grades (Fleming et al., 2005).
The House passed Student Success Act, H.R. 5, does not include these provisions. SSWAA urges the House to consider the Senate provisions of S.1094 that improve mental health awareness, prevention, and interventions, including the Achievement through Prevention Act and Mental Health in Schools Act. This language should be included in the final ESEA conference package.
II. Retain the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Program (ESSCP) as a separate competitive grant program under the ESEA.
The Elementary and Secondary School Counseling Program is the only current federal grant program that provides school districts with money specifically intended to hire mental health professionals. SSWAA is concerned that the Administration’s proposal of ESSCP consolidation will impede student access to mental health professionals, such as school social workers, school counselors, and school psychologists. Retaining the ESSCP as a separate grant program will allow the continuation of much needed funds aimed specifically toward maintaining school-employed mental health professionals. As the demand for school counseling programs increases nationally, consolidating the ESSCP would threaten the capacity of each grantee as well as the priorities that intend to meet those ever-increasing demands. These grantees have developed model programs which should be replicated in high-needs districts.
III. Require schools to determine and to assure the availability of mental health and student support services as part of the school improvement plan.
Schools should do a needs assessment and determine the accessibility and availability of social and mental health programs in local schools and the community when creating the school improvement plan. Building “school based mental health partnerships” with community entities and service providers can strengthen service delivery, but are most successful when there is strong coordination and communication between the schools and communities. School social workers are ideally trained to strengthen this coordination, communication and overall service delivery.
IV. Identify students with academic and behavioral challenges early and provide targeted interventions before considering referral for special education services.
ESEA must include multi-tiered systems of supports (MTSS) and positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS) within “Schoolwide Programs” and as allowable uses under ESEA, Title I. School social workers assist in the design and execution of these programs and services and help coordinate these funding streams with other school and community resources.
V. Clarify conflicting terminology, definitions, and roles of pupil/related services personnel.
Currently, the differences in terminology between the ESEA and IDEA cause much confusion. By changing all references to “pupil services personnel” in the ESEA to “specialized instructional support personnel” and all references to “pupil support services” to “specialized instructional support services,” SSWAA hopes to avert much of the previously experienced confusion.
VI. Establish an Office of Specialized Instructional Supports within the U.S. Department of Education.
The Office of Specialized Instructional Supports would establish a national leadership for the already-existing departments, which organize specialized instructional support services through state educational agencies (SEAs). The State and local education agencies, however, could use a federal office as a point of contact and support, as written in H.R. 1940: Reducing the Barriers to Learning Act, Rep. Loebsack (D-IA)
VII. Ensure inclusion of specialized instructional support personnel throughout the ESEA as essential members of the school staff.
SSWAA believes that input from specialized instructional support personnel should be required regarding the development and participation of local agency plans under Title I. All professional development opportunities should be available to specialized instructional support personnel and not just on an “as appropriate” basis. By making all school personnel aware of how to access and utilize specialized instructional support personnel, these personnel will be more fully integrated into the general school system.
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For questions or further information, please contact Libby Nealis, Director of Policy and Advocacy, School Social Work Association of America.