RAND Corp. Study Shows Need to Develop Social and Emotional Skills; US House Proposes Supportive Funding as FY 2020 Budget Showdown Looms (June 1, 2019)

According to new results from a RAND Corporation study, nearly 75% of school principals feel that developing students’ social and emotional skills is a top priority for their schools, with even more teachers supporting the development of specific student skills in those areas. In fact, information gleaned from RAND’s American Educator Panels shows a need to develop such social-emotional learning (SEL) skills as empathy, understanding and managing emotions, and setting and achieving related goals; with the development of these skills resulting in improvements in student achievement, an improved school environment, and improved student behavior.

In support of these findings, the US House of Representatives Appropriations Committee has appropriated $260 million for SEL and “whole-child” approaches as part of its proposed FY 2020 budget. Those funds would provide $170 million for Education Innovation and Research grants, $40 million for full-service community schools to help address students’ non-academic needs, $25 million for mental health professionals and child development experts in schools, and $25 million for SEL-related professional development.

However, President Trump’s proposed budget aims to cut funding for SEL-related professional development funding and to also eliminate the whole-child centered Full-Service Community Schools and Promise Neighborhoods programs.

It appears that a budget fight is looming on this front.

For more information, please go to: https://www.educationdive.com/news/principals-teachers-prioritize-social-emotional-skills-for-students/555744/:


Supreme Court Declines to Hear Boyertown Transgender Case; Bathroom Policy Stands (May 29, 2019)

On May 28, 2019, the US Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in favor of a Boyertown Area School District  policy that allows transgender students to use bathrooms that align with their gender identity. The Supreme Court’s decision thus leaves standing the 3rd Circuit Appeals Court unanimous 2018 ruling. The policy also provides private bathrooms and locker rooms to those students who report being uncomfortable sharing a bathroom with transgender or cisgender students.

The original plaintiff in the suit was the conservative Christian group, Alliance Defending Freedom, which argued that transgender bathroom use violates a “right to privacy.” However, the fact that the Boyertown ASD policy accommodates “uncomfortable” students with private bathroom accessibility without denying transgender students’ rights significantly undercuts such a privacy argument.

Noted attorney Michael I. Levin from Huntington Valley, PA handled the school district’s defense.

It is important to note that the Boyertown Supreme Court decision has no bearing on other cases  involving the interpretation of federal anti-discrimination laws in this area, which became a bone of contention when the Trump administration reversed an Obama administration interpretation of the Title IX educational equity law as protecting transgender students.

Federal Statistics Show Depression in the Young to be a Major Health Crisis (May 24, 2019)

According to research from federal regulators and medical groups, the suicide rate in the US for pre-teens through young adults (ages 10 to 19) rose by an alarming 56% from 2007 to 2016, which is the most recent year that statistics are available. Additionally, according to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), during that time  only 40% of young people with major depression received treatment. It has been further noted that behavioral health diagnoses have greatly increased over the past decade as more and more young people must cope with mental health and substance abuse issues. In fact, according to information from Fair Health, behavioral health cases increased 108% from 2007 to 2017, going from 1.3% to 2.7% of all medical claim lines. Similarly, the share of claims for those 22 years old or younger with major depressive disorder have increased from 15% to 23% over that same decade.

These skyrocketing statistics have led many to aver that the US medical system is woefully inadequate in meeting the need for teen mental health services, resulting in an extremely  serious public health crisis.

States File Suit Over New School Meal Guidelines (April 6, 2019)

In its mission to roll back nutritional standards that were developed by the Obama administration to fight childhood obesity, the Trump administration has issued a final rule that permanently delays and eliminates sodium targets and cuts in half the amount of whole grains that need to be served in schools participating in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs.

According to the New York Times, critics of the move aver that the roll back was enacted  without doing any scientific research beforehand and despite the science underlying the requirements for healthier meals that shows that healthier school meals can improve the overall health and school preparedness of students.

Now, USDA is claiming that the Obama-era rules were burdensome for school districts and resulted in increased costs and decreased participation in the federal school lunch program. The USDA also asserts that certain states need the flexibility to “plan and serve meals that are economically feasible and acceptable to their students and communities,” and are “culturally appropriate.”

According to Anne Harkavy, Executive Director of Democracy Forward, which is representing the Center for Science in the Public Interest and Healthy School Food Maryland, “This [action] is not just wrong; it’s illegal.” Critics also claim that the move puts the health of more than 30 million of the nation’s economically disadvantaged students at risk.

Echoing Ms. Harkavy’s concerns, on April 3rd a coalition of six states and the District of Columbia, along with advocacy organizations, sued the Trump administration in federal court over the rollback, claiming that the administration illegally issued rules that weakened requirements that school meals contain less salt and more whole grains. The suits claim the USDA violated the Administrative Procedure Act, issuing its rules with little public notice and no reasoned explanation and against overwhelming opposition from the public.

Federal Legislators Introduce IDEA Full Funding Act (April 6, 2019)

In late March, legislators in both houses of the US Congress introduced bills that would gradually increase funding for special education to the 40% originally intended when the Education for All Handicapped Children Act – now known as IDEA – was passed in 1975. The bill is named the IDEA Full Funding Act, which was brought to both the US House (as H.R.1878) and US Senate (S.866) and calls for incremental hikes in federal funding for special education until the 40% level is reached in fiscal year 2029.

Presently, the federal government pays less than 15% of the cost of special education and states and local school districts must foot the remainder of the cost.