Request for Proposals: Advancing Educational Equity through Student Social Emotional Learning and Mental Health

Deadline for application: 27 February 2023

Location: Open to United States-based applicants only

Deadline for proposals: February 27, 2023
Interviews (virtual): March 20, 21, &22
Full application to Oak Foundation (by invitation for selected organizations): May-June 2023
Link to FAQ  (Google Docs)

About Oak Foundation
Oak Foundation commits its resources to address issues of global, social, and environmental concern, particularly those that have a major impact on the lives of the disadvantaged. Through our grant-making, we support others to make the world a safer, fairer, and more sustainable place to live. With offices in Europe, India, and North America, our grant-making spans approximately 40 countries worldwide.

Oak Foundation’s Learning Differences Programme partners with not-for-profit organizations that improve education for students with learning differences. For Oak Foundation, the learning differences population includes students who have specific learning disabilities (such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia) as well as individuals with related neurological processing challenges that can impact learning (such as attention deficits, sensory processing disorders, and executive function challenges).

We believe that every student should benefit from engaging and rigorous educational opportunities regardless of personal and social identifiers that privilege some students and marginalize others. In our work, we are particularly focused on efforts that support students with learning differences who experience further marginalization due to racism and poverty. Find more information about our program strategy here and a list of our current grantee partners here.

Background and need 
The Covid-19 pandemic both exacerbated and revealed the inequities that exist for vulnerable learners, particularly those with learning differences. While the pandemic brought heightened attention to youth mental health, prior to the pandemic, and continuing today, the mental health of young people is increasingly an issue of great concern.

Despite widespread rising concern about the state of mental health among young people, including from the US Surgeon General, there is an increasing need to elevate the intersection of mental health and learning differences. There is evidence of a strong correlation between learning differences and mental health diagnoses, including anxiety as well as depression. According to’s Pandemic Learning Impact Study (May 2021), in a national survey of 1,500 parents, children with learning and thinking differences were nearly three times as likely to have experienced depression as a result of COVID-19 schooling disruptions, compared to their
neurotypical peers.

Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is an important factor in promoting positive mental health. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), “while SEL and mental health are not the same, SEL can promote positive mental health in many ways. By promoting responsive relationships, emotionally safe environments, and skills development, SEL cultivates important “protective factors” to buffer against mental health risks. In this way, SEL is an indispensable part of student mental health and wellness, helping to improve attitudes about self and others while decreasing emotional distress.”1

With this context, the LDP is seeking to support organizations and projects whose work promotes educational equity through supporting student mental health and/or social and emotional wellbeing.

Project overview
In late 2021, the Learning Differences Programme commissioned a landscape scan to assess opportunities at the intersection of learning differences, youth mental health, and K-12 education in the United States. We discovered an absence of research, expertise, and organizational work focused on the overlap of SEL, mental health, and learning differences. The analysis confirmed the disproportionate challenges students with learning differences experience when it comes to mental health. To build awareness of and solutions focused on the connections between SEL and Mental Health, the LDP is inviting proposals from US-based not-for-profits that aim to develop research, training, and/or student supports that improve mental health and wellbeing for students with learning differences.

The goal of this RFP is to identify organizations working with students in the United States in K-12 education systems whose work centers on SEL and/or mental health and includes a focus on students with learning differences who are furthest from opportunity due to racism and poverty.

Within SEL, we will prioritize concepts focused on school culture that center: 1) practices intended to create a sense of belonging for students with learning differences; 2) initiatives aimed at developing a supportive educator culture to better support students with learning differences; and/or 3) initiatives that focus on disrupting disproportionate discipline practices that penalize students furthest from opportunity, including those with learning differences.

Within mental health, we will prioritize projects that make research to practice connections between learning differences and mental health diagnoses and support, including anxiety, depression, and other mental health diagnoses.

Selection criteria and process 
The LDP is seeking not-for-profit organizations focused on developing knowledge and/or support systems for SEL and mental health for students with Learning Differences. While the LDP recognizes that organizations devoted to mental health and SEL often inherently benefit students with learning differences based on their focus on whole-child support, we will prioritise proposals that have an explicit focus on students with learning differences.

Oak Foundation will consider requests in the range of USD 250,000 – 750,000 over 2-3 years. We will accept proposals from individual organizations or collaborations between multiple organizations; if applying as a collaborative, please identify the lead organization in the proposal.

Prospective organizations for this project should meet the following criteria:

Content expertise: 

  • Deep knowledge of and commitment to advancing educational equity for students with learning differences who are furthest from opportunity due to racism and poverty
  • Deep knowledge of youth and student mental health and/or SEL
  • Experience translating research into practice
  • Familiarity with the history, current debates, and gaps in knowledge about mental health, SEL, and learning differences in the US

Commitment to supporting students with learning differences who are furthest from opportunity:  

  • Dedication to the vision and desired impact for this work, and to the LDP’s vision and strategy
  • Focus on students with diagnosed or undiagnosed learning differences who experience additional adversity due to racism and/or poverty
  • Commitment to and a track record of prioritizing racial justice, diversity, equity, and inclusivity within the organization and in its work with partners and other stakeholders

Financial and operational systems and structures to manage the initiative:  

  • Not-for-profit status in the United States for your organization or your fiscal sponsor
  • Capacity to receive and manage grants and, if distributing funds, to re-grant and monitor the use of funds effectively
  • Organizational capacity to support this work over 2-3 years and to capture and share lessons learned with Oak Foundation and the broader field

How to apply
Organizations that intend to submit a proposal for consideration are encouraged fill out this intent to respond form by February 13, 2023.

The full proposal will be submitted by February 27, 2023 using this Survey Monkey link that responds to the following questions:

  1. What is the need you propose to address and what are the primary barriers to improving youth mental health broadly, and among students with learning differences? and/or what are the primary barriers to more widespread focus on SEL in learning environments?
  2. Does your organization(s) currently support students with learning differences? If yes, what is your organization’s definition of learning differences?
  3. What is your vision and theory of action for advancing educational equity by improving the mental health of young people with learning differences and/or how do you propose to use SEL as a tool to improve outcomes for these students?
  4. What are the strategies you will use to achieve this vision (including high-level activities, milestones, and timeline)? Please describe prior experiences with related work.
  5. What is the desired short and longer-term impact of this work? What indicators will you use to measure progress each year?
  6. Describe your organization’s track record and impact in the areas of SEL and/or mental health that prepare you to lead this project focused on young people with learning differences?
  7. In what ways does your organization prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusivity (DEI)?
  8. What is your anticipated project budget? This can be high level with a more detailed budget requested for those invited to interviews.
  9. In addition, you will be asked for organizational information and to provide the following supplemental materials:
  10. Bio(s) for team member(s) with primary responsibility for the project
  11. Documentation of not-for-profit status in the United States for your organization or your fiscal sponsor
  12. Names of two references for related/relevant prior work

A few technical notes as you begin the application process:
The SurveyMonkey platform does not allow users to save partially completed forms to return to later. We recommend drafting your responses in another document before submitting them through SurveyMonkey.

In case you would like to view the full Intent to Apply and RFP application in PDF form prior to submitting either, click here to view the Intent to Apply survey and click here to view the RFP Application survey.

Once submitted, you will not be able to access your responses in SurveyMonkey.

January 23                         Request for Proposal opens
February 13                        Intent to Apply
February 27                       RFP responses due
February 27-March 8      Review of proposals 
March 10                            Selected proposals invited for interviews
March 20, 21, & 22           Interviews conducted by Zoom (one hour)
Early April                         Invitation to submit complete applications*
June 15                               Complete applications and all supplemental materials due
Fall 2023                            Anticipated grant period start date pending grant approval 

*Important: The organizations selected through the RFP process will be invited to submit a full grant application to Oak Foundation. This will include a detailed project budget and audited financial statements.


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