US House of Reps Passes READ Act

Reinforcing Education Accountability in Development
On Jan. 24, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Reinforcing Education Accountability in Development (READ) Act (H.R. 601). The bill, which has essentially the same language as the Education for All Act of 2016, provides accountability for existing U.S. efforts to improve quality basic education in developing and war-torn countries.

The Education for All Act (H.R. 4481) passed the House in the 114th Congress on Sept. 7, 2016. It later passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in December, but unfortunately, Congress adjourned before it was considered in the full Senate. Representatives Nita Lowey (D-NY-17) and Dave Reichert (R-WA-8) just introduced the READ Act on Jan. 23, so it shows great momentum that it passed only one day later.

The U.S. foreign assistance strategy has a long history of incorporating education, as most agree that it is a vital part of improving economic stability in developing countries. According to the World Bank, “an increase of one standard deviation in student reading and math scores is associated with an increase of two percentage points in annual gross domestic product (GDP) per capita growth.”

The international community has also widely accepted the importance of education in international development. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted in September of 2015, and it features 17 new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One of the goals, SDG 4, is for countries to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

However, according to data from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Institute for Statistics (UIS), for the school year ending in 2014, about 263 million children and youth did not attend school. This included children who were of primary school age (6 to 11 years old), lower secondary school age (12 to 14 years old) and upper secondary school age (15 to 17 years old).

The READ Act, therefore, is an important step in helping to maintain progress in our foreign assistance strategy, as well as contributing to the achievement of SDG 4. It aims to accelerate the impact of assistance provided under the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, “an act to promote the foreign policy, security, and general welfare of the United States by assisting peoples of the world in their efforts toward economic development and internal and external security, and for other purposes.”

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA-39) said, in his remarks to the House prior to the vote, “H.R. 601, the Reinforcing Education Accountability in Development Act, introduces new guidelines and increases accountability for existing U.S. efforts to improve access to basic education in developing and conflict-torn countries. It requires strategic planning and the prioritization of resources relative to needs on the ground, potential for impact, and alignment with U.S. diplomatic, development and security interests.”

There is strong bipartisan support for the READ Act, and the bill will now go to the Senate for consideration. The Borgen Project commends the House for making this legislation a priority in the new year, as it opens the possibility for millions of children to gain access to the education they all deserve.

– Kristin Westad