CLIFTON, New Jersey — The Reinforcing Education Accountability in Development (READ) Act was signed into law on September 8, 2017 “to promote sustainable, quality basic education” for children around the globe. Noting that education is vital for social and economic growth, it prioritized advancing the education of the some 263 million children then unenrolled in school.
Initially enacted for five fiscal years, the READ Act is currently set to expire on September 30, 2023. This past January, the READ Act Reauthorization Act of 2023 (S. 41/H.R. 681) was introduced in both the Senate, by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), and House of Representatives, by Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY-06) and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ-04), to reauthorize the READ Act for another five years. Here’s why reauthorization of the READ act, which is critical for global progress and prosperity, has gained support from both major U.S. political parties.
History of the READ Act
Originally introduced with bipartisan support in 2017, the READ Act aimed to build upon goals established with the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. While it emphasized strengthening education and learning outcomes for all children, the READ Act particularly called attention to the need to improve education and education access for vulnerable and marginalized groups, especially girls. Highlighting this need, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) lauded the READ Act after its enactment, noting that “[w]orldwide, 62 million girls are out of school” and “[t]wo thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women.” “We must do our best to ensure that all children, especially those in conflict-affected areas, have access to education because education offers opportunities,” the chairman said.
Why the READ Act Is Important
By prioritizing equal access to quality education for children around the globe, the READ Act addresses one of the fundamental causes and consequences of poverty. Namely, poverty heightens barriers to education, while lack of education increases the likelihood of remaining trapped in poverty. Accordingly, children in developing countries plagued by social, political and financial instability face inordinate obstacles to improving their individual and national futures, including ethnic- and gender-based discrimination, lack of educational infrastructure and teachers, hunger and poor health. Increasing literacy has numerous benefits that are vital for overcoming such obstacles, such as improving health, supporting social and cognitive development, expanding national economies and job markets and promoting gender equality.
Since its implementation, the READ Act has benefitted more than 122 million students and educators “through programs that are expanding access to quality education for all.” However, in light of COVID-19’s detrimental impacts on education and learning poverty worldwide, the READ Act remains more important than ever. Underscoring its significance, “The State of Global Learning Poverty: Update 2022” stressed that 70% of 10-year-olds in low- and middle-income countries are now unable to read, which the World Bank estimates could equate to a total loss of $21 trillion in lifetime earnings.
Reauthorization of the READ Act is critical for advancing developing economies, realizing equitable growth and achieving the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s). It is one of several ways that, recognizing the urgency of the situation, members of Congress and the global community are working to address the global education crisis.
On January 24, 2023, Rep. Meng also introduced H.Res 54 to the House of Representatives to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to advancing equal access to quality education worldwide. Simultaneously, numerous nonprofits are working on the ground to make basic education more accessible to all.
For example, the U.K.-based organization Book Aid International is increasing access to books for people of all ages. Each year, it provides some one million new books to libraries, schools, prisons, refugee camps and other institutions, supplying current resources to communities that lack them and benefitting some 22 million readers a year. Since 2016, Book Aid International has sent 7,667,324 books to 33 countries and, since 2017, it has advanced progress on the SDG’s by creating 986 new libraries and training 3,225 librarians and teachers. Since its initial founding, as the Ranfurly Library Service, in 1954, the organization has distributed over 37 million books total and impacted some 150 million lives.
The Global Campaign for Education-US (GCE-US), a coalition of local, national and international organizations, is simultaneously working “to promote education as a basic human right and mobilize to create political will in the United States and internationally to ensure universal quality education.” Founded in 2003, GCE-US is pursuing this mission through initiatives like the Global Campaign for Education Coalition, which meets monthly to share solutions for advancing quality education around the world, and the Global Action Week for Education, which focuses on global education advocacy efforts.
Reauthorization of the READ Act is vital for ensuring the long-term success of these and other efforts to end global learning poverty. However, despite bipartisan backing, increased Congressional support is imperative if we are to see the READ Act Reauthorization Act passed before the close of the fiscal year.
– Nicole Alexander