Much has been written about the impact poverty can have on children’s education. Children growing up in poverty complete less school, earn less as adults and have poorer health. Federal programs like Head Start and free and reduced-price school lunch programs attempt to address this challenge.
In Seattle Public Schools, 40 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. This percentage is higher for students of color: African American, 79 percent; Latino, 65 percent; Native American, 63 percent; and Asian American, 54 percent. Schools need our support, and it is fortunate that Seattle voters have approved school levies to supplement state and federal funds.
But around the world, 57 million children of primary school age are not in school. Schools in developing countries do not have the necessary educational resources, and many young people experience barriers to learning. Consider the plight of a 16-year-old Kenyan student we will call James, a bright young man who wants to become a neurosurgeon. He grew up in Kibera, in Nairobi, one of the largest slums in Africa with one million people. His mother died of AIDS when he was 13. The father abandoned the family. James’ older sister quit school and married a much older man when she was 14. James got involved with drugs and dropped out of school. Thankfully, school staff reengaged James in learning.
The 2014 education monitoring report put out by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) states that education reduces poverty, increases job prospects and fosters economic prosperity. The report analyzed data to determine the impact if all students in low-income countries finished school with basic reading skills. The calculations show that 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty, equivalent to cutting poverty by 12 percent.
The benefits of girls’ education are striking. The report states that educating girls increases their chances of staying healthy and improving the health of their children. Adolescent girls who attend school delay marriage and childbearing, and they acquire information and skills that lead to increased earning power. Educated women are less likely to die in childbirth, and their children are twice as likely to survive to the age of five.
This month, the U.S. has an important opportunity to invest in advancing global education. An international pledging conference, hosted by the
European Union, is scheduled in Brussels, Belgium. Funds will support the work of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). As a result of its formation in 2002, 22 million more children are in school. With a $250 million commitment over the next two years, the U.S. could make a significant contribution and join with many other nations to reach a goal of enrolling 29 million more children worldwide over the next four years.
Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, is calling for a robust U.S. commitment at the GPE pledging conference and is the lead Republican sponsor of the Education for All Act. This bill will make it easier to contribute to multilateral organizations working to improve schooling across the globe. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, and Rep. Adam Smith, D-Bellevue, are among the co-sponsors, and both have called on President Obama to pledge $250 million in GPE funding.
In 2000, all 189 members of the United Nations adopted eight Millennium Development Goals to make significant strides by 2015 to end poverty and improve the lives of people around the world. The second goal is to ensure that children everywhere — boys and girls alike — will be able to complete a full course of primary school education. In 1999, 108 million children were out of school, and since then that number has been cut nearly in half. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that this goal will be achieved by next year.
While we work locally to strengthen our schools and help students overcome barriers to learning, we can also make a difference around the world. Before June 25, local voters can tell President Obama and members of Congress that a meaningful U.S. contribution at the GPE pledging conference is in our country’s and state’s best interest. Actions we take here can benefit children, families and communities around the world.