Yesterday, the National Human Services Assembly (NHSA) hosted a briefing to discuss the implications of their recently released 2013 Legislative Agenda, entitled Investing in Our Future: An Essential Agenda for America’s Communities. NHSA’s key recommendations to Congress include:
- Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)
- Reauthorization of the Older Americans Act
- Sustained Federal Funding for Developmental Disabilities Act Programs
- Reauthorization of the Workforce Investment Act
Policy experts representing human services organizations serving four vulnerable populations-children & youth, older adults, people with disabilities and families-emphasized the collective benefits of Federal investment in these areas and spoke in fervent support of NHSA’s Legislative priorities. Throughout the discussion, panelists highlighted the comprehensive, cross-sector and cross-generational approach necessary to providing an effective system of support across the spectrum of human services.
Irv Katz, President and CEO of NHSA, led a panel of four policy experts, including, Jatrice Martel Gaiter, Executive VP of External Affairs, Volunteers of America; Kelly Gilbert, Director of Government Relations, Big Brothers, Big Sisters of America; Mark Richert, Director of Public Policy, American Foundation for the Blind; Tony Samiento, Executive Director, Senior Service America. For an overview of NHSA’s policy priorities, visit: http://www.collab4youth.org/Policy/Default.aspx.
Yesterday, the Conditions for Learning Coalition hosted a briefing on the well-being of children in schools titled, “Social and Emotional Learning: Essential Skills for School Safety, Positive Behavior and Higher Student Achievement.” Education and research experts responded to the issues of bullying, school violence, and other behavioral and psychological issues plaguing children by advocating for more social emotional learning (SEL) programs in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) reauthorization. SEL programs are designed to drive the intellectual, social, and emotional development of students; helping them to manage their emotions, focus their attention, follow instructions, and avoid risky behaviors.
A panel discussion was led by Steve Zimmer, a member of Los Angeles Unified School District’s School Board, Dorothy Espelage, Ph.D., at the University of Illinois, Lori Vollandt, Ed.D, of the Los Angeles Unified School District, Michael Searcy, with Detroit Public Schools, and, Joan Duffell, Executive Director of Committee for Children. Evidence-based research presented at the briefing has shown that SEL programs such as the Second Step program and the Steps to Respect program can reduce bullying and other risky and violent behaviors of students by 30 percent, and increase the social and emotional competence of vulnerable children.
Earlier this week the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled, What Should America Do About Gun Violence? At the hearing, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) shared a story of the impact that mental health services provided in schools have had on his constituents in Minnesota. He went on to say that learning of the initial need led him to want to do more to ensure access for those who have been diagnosed with a mental illness but still lack the access to treatment and services. Following the hearing, Franken introduced the Mental Health in Schools Act to expand access to mental health services in schools by establishing a grant program to support schools that work with community-based organizations providing these services.
The bill authorizes $200 million in grant funding per year over five years, and eligible schools may apply for up to $1 million per grant year, based on the size of their student body population. The grant program will also provide assistance to schools to train staff, volunteers, families, and other members of the community to recognize the signs of behavioral health problems in students and refer them for appropriate services. Finally, SAMHSA will be required to develop standardized quality measures and participating schools are required to collect and submit data on their programs and outcomes.
The Mental Health in Schools Act is cosponsored by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Max Baucus (D-MT), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Jon Tester (D-MT). In addition, the bill has received broad support from the mental health, education, law enforcement, and child welfare communities. Representative Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Co-Chair of the Congressional Mental Health Caucus, plans to introduce companion legislation in the House in the near future.
Yesterday, the Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law of the Senate Judiciary held a hearing on the School to Prison Pipeline. Subcommittee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) called the hearing to explore the occurrence of excessive and ineffective discipline driving students into failure. Before taking feedback from three panels including House members, Administration officials, and topical experts, Durbin called for creative reforms to make schools safer and reduce incarceration rates. Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) thanked Durbin for bringing attention to the matter in light of our country having the highest incarceration rate in the world. Leahy then stated his intention to reintroduce the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act reauthorization encompassing prevention programs next Congress.
Representatives Bobby Scott (D-VA) and Danny Davis (D-IL) comprised the first panel. Scott talked about how overly harsh and fixed discipline policies actually reinforces bad behavior and sets up a progression to higher punitive measures. He called for comprehensive, evidence-based programs like teen pregnancy prevention, home visiting, early education, and school wide positive behavior supports to tackle the problem. Davis followed by highlighting his role on the Congressional Black Caucus and their longtime concern of this issue that disproportionately affects African-American young men. He pointed to the essential importance of education in our modern society and thus the need to keep students learning.
Deborah Delisle, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education with the US Department of Education (Ed) and Melodee Hanes, Acting Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) followed in the second panel. Delisle spoke about how Ed is addressing the problem starting with identifying it. She described a recent study finding an over reliance on suspensions and expulsions, disproportionate impact on students of color and with disabilities, and an increased risk of juvenile justice involvement for students who are suspended or expelled. For solutions in progress, she pointed to Race to the Top competitive school funding and technical assistance on multi-tiered behavioral frameworks and social and emotional well-being supports. Hanes followed describing the OJJDP response to find consensus on best practices, identify needed areas for further research, enhanced systems collaboration on research and data, and public education.
The third panel consisted of topical experts who further described the problem and promising approaches. Panelists included Ohio Attorney General Michael DeWine, Georgia Juvenile Court Chief Judge Steven Teske, Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis, Cato Institute Director of the Center for Educational Reform Andrew Coulson, and Edward Ward bringing the young adult perspective. The subcommittee website contains a recording (seek the player to 14:30) of the informative event, including the panelists testimonies and knowledgeable answers to the subcommittee’s thoughtful questions.