Let’s celebrate back to school by passing the READ Act!

September 8, 2023
by Meg Gardinier and Katie Fleischer

It’s September and, for many, this is the time when backpacks get dusted off, bus engines roar to life, and kids head back to school. It is no coincidence that September 8 is International Literacy Day, dovetailing with the hubbub of “back to school” milestones and events. This International Literacy Day, though, we take stock of the ample work ahead to ensure all children get the tools and support they need to learn to read. 

Children aren’t getting the education they deserve 

The COVID-19 pandemic robbed so many children of the instruction they deserve. Globally, it’s estimated that as many as 70 percent of 10-year-olds in the countries most affected by poverty did not get the education they needed to read basic texts by last year. When children do not get these opportunities by age 10, it is called “learning poverty.” All children do not bear the burden of learning poverty equally. Girls, children with disabilities, children from minoritized ethnic groups, children experiencing poverty, and children who have been displaced are more likely to have suffered limited access to education or support to acquire foundational literacy and math skills. We also know that this foundational learning is critical to the fight against poverty. Data show that without this learning, students usually cannot later pursue advanced degrees and secure stable employment; they often cannot vote and are less likely to vaccinate and send their own children to school. 

The READ Act offers tools to realize every child’s right to education 

But International Literacy Day also spotlights one of the most effective tools we have for addressing global learning poverty. It is the anniversary of Congress passing the Reinforcing Education Accountability in Development (READ) Act. This law ensures that the U.S. does its part to help end the foundational learning crisis. In 2022 alone, the READ Act funded and provided support to help reach 30 million primary and secondary-aged students in 73 countries with opportunities to learn literacy, numeracy, and other basic skills, including 1.7 million children affected by global conflict. The READ Act successes also include buoying programs that repair and build schools, make materials like textbooks available, and grow collaborations with local parent-teacher organizations. And right now, the READ Act is up for reauthorization in Congress. 

Members of Congress must act now to co-sponsor and pass the READ Act Reauthorization 

This International Literacy Day, we can take steps to expand access to foundational learning, ensuring all kids get the chance to experience “back to school.” Reach out to your members of Congress to stress the urgency of reauthorizing the READ Act before it expires at the end of September. They can sign on as co-sponsors and ask congressional leadership to move the bill forward. Let them know that if we can realize every child’s right to foundational learning, the world can retain an estimated $17 trillion in lifetime earnings, which people cannot achieve if subjected to learning poverty as children. 

This month is also a great time to write Letters to the Editor, raising awareness of the READ Act and asking your lawmakers to sign on. With your help, we can urge Congress to take action and ensure the READ Act will support the expansion of the basic human right to quality public education.

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