LOS ANGELES, California — In an effort to be pragmatic and realistic, it is vital for all Americans, both constituents and representatives, to strive for progress, not perfection. Unfortunately, amidst the chaos and anger stemming from both sides of the aisle, Congress is seemingly at a roadblock when it comes to passing legislation. However, there are dire issues that rise above party lines, bringing together Senators and Representatives regardless of their party affiliation. An example of such a collaboration is companion bills H.R.1500 and S.552, called the Global Learning Loss Assessment Act of 2021.
What Is A Companion Bill?
If a Senate bill and its corresponding House bill (or vice versa) are similar or, oftentimes, identical, Congress coined a term for the pair that it still uses today: a “companion bill.” Depending on whether or not the bills pass their respective houses, they make their way to the Resolute Desk where the President decides their fate. If it garners approval, the President signs the bill, subsequently enacting it as a law. However, if the President vetoes the bill, it returns to Congress where each chamber may override the veto by a two-thirds vote.
The Background on the Current Debate
Before COVID-19 plagued the world, 258 million children were already not enrolled in school. This is a devastating fact that the pandemic has only worsened since it forced schools globally to shut down. Roughly 90% of young people “have had their education disrupted” with many children ultimately not showing up whatsoever. Accompanied by rising levels of child poverty, up to 24 million children are in jeopardy of dropping out of school permanently.
Many schools switched to remote classes, where students attended classes virtually while keeping safe in the lockdown. But, what happens to the kids who relied on school for the resources necessary to get an education? What if they lack reliable internet service or are unable to afford a computer with a webcam? Two-thirds of the world’s schoolchildren do not have a good internet connection. In fact, girls, refugees and children with disabilities are affected at a disproportionately higher rate.
The economic obstacles that the coming generation must overcome are growing increasingly troublesome. On a global scale, schools closures equate to approximately $10 trillion in lost economic output. Low and middle-income countries could face a $77 billion education financing gap over the next two years. The Global Learning Loss Assessment Act of 2021 — H.R.1500 and S.552 — calls on the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to address all of these destructive issues and forge a path for improvement.
The Global Learning Loss Assessment Act of 2021 can be divided into two parts: a statement of policy and a report.
The Statement of Policy
“It is the policy of the United States that United States-funded basic education programs operating” in low- and middle-income countries funded by the United States must aim to:
- Make “inclusive learning opportunities” for all, especially for marginalized groups. This includes girls, children with disabilities and kids that were not enrolled in school prior to the onset of the pandemic.
- Help “strengthen education systems” and early childhood opportunities.
- Upgrade “the availability, delivery, quality,” equity and safety of primary and secondary education services.
- Support the transition back to school following COVID-19 interruptions.
- Ensure ALL children, including those who did not previously attend school, are enrolled.
After 180 days from the bill’s ratification, the Global Learning Loss Assessment Act of 2021 calls for a detailed progress report from the Administrator of the USAID, the Senior Coordinator for International Basic Education Assistance and the Senior Coordinator for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. The report, which must be made available to the public and must:
- Assess COVID-19’s impact on the magnitude of global learning loss, especially for those most marginalized.
- Assess the academic outcomes of the USAID programs and compare them to results of in-person learning and remote learning.
- Detail “the effectiveness, cost, accessibility and reach” of “distance learning in low and middle-income” families with limited resources
- Provide data of which parts of the population school closures affected most were most “by gender, country, education level and disability.”
- Identify the barriers those most marginalized must face in obtaining a sufficient education.
- A description of the USAID’s plan to support basic education programs that identify which authorities and resources are necessary to uphold those implementations. Include assistance with distance learning, the safe reopening of schools, adequate student learning levels, remedial and accelerated learning and re-enrollment efforts.
- Analyze the coordination of the USAID and other proponents of global education programs, such as partner organizations, “faith-based organizations, donors, and multilateral organizations.”
- Support efforts to expand access to proper digital infrastructure, internet access and any necessary resources for effective remote learning.
Where the Bill Currently Stands
Rep. Chrissy Houlahan [D-PA-6] introduced H.R.1500 to the House floor on March 2, 2021, where it was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The bill passed the House on June 29, 2021, where it promptly went to the Senate and to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin [D-MD] introduced S.552 on March 2, 2021, where it was sent to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
The Global Learning Loss Assessment Act of 2021 could have a significant impact on the education of children all over the world. It is especially important in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Marginalized groups will have better access to education and increased enrollment should the Act be successful.
– Kana Ruhalter