The heinous practice of kidnapping girls in Nigeria continues to capture international attention and shock us all.  In April, 276 school girls were kidnapped for doing something that American children do every day - attend school.  Last week, reports indicated that at least 20 more girls were abducted on their way to the local market.  As we continue to support efforts to bring these young women home and to prevent violent attacks on innocent civilians, we cannot lose sight of the long-term imperative: access to education in every corner of the world. 

Boko Haram and their sympathizers are fixated on preventing access to education, particularly for girls, because they know that educated young adults better protect themselves from poverty, disease, hunger, and, ultimately, extremism.  This means education is not only a moral imperative, it is a critical national security priority.  To this effect, the 9/11 Commission concluded that educational opportunity is essential to defeating global terrorism. 

Education is also in our economic interest. Literate boys and girls build the foundation of productive communities.  Countries in the developing world now recognize that it’s virtually impossible to achieve long-term economic development without establishing near universal primary education.  Strong, stable societies can then become trade and financial partners with the United States in the global economy.

Congress is rightfully focused on stretching each U.S. tax dollar.  We should only invest in what works. Education works. It is among the wisest investments we can make both at home and abroad, increasing our security, growing our economy, and maintaining our standard of excellence in the global community

Between 2001 and 2010, Congress supported a strong investment in U.S. international basic education programs, and a continued robust commitment is needed to ensure the gains we’ve made are not reversed.  To ensure access to universal, quality education gets the attention and investment it needs, we have introduced the Education for All Act, which has broad, bipartisan support.  This act requires the Administration to prioritize working with other countries, international organizations, and civil society groups to ensure our partners are implementing strong, accountable national education plans designed to provide a quality, basic education for all their children.  It also ensures we are reaching disadvantaged and vulnerable children - girls who live in poor, remote areas; child laborers; those with disabilities; victims of sex trafficking; and children who are orphaned, negatively impacted by the HIV/AIDS virus, or who live in conflict areas.

The Education for All Act places the United States squarely in a leadership role in pursuit of achieving universal access to quality education.  We cannot build the world we want for ourselves, and for future generations, without education at the center of our efforts. 

With 57 million primary school-aged children and 69 million adolescents around the world out of school, our job is just beginning.  Tragically, over half of these children are girls. Forty percent live in Africa. Fifty percent live in fragile and conflict-affected areas.  Tens of millions of school-age children who start primary school drop out, and millions more are denied a secondary school education.  Without a quality education, these children will not have the skills to contribute to their societies. They will be powerless to the greater forces that surround them, and countless boys and girls will be lost to conflict, disease, and even terrorism. 

For the girls in Nigeria and for school-aged children everywhere, let’s redouble our efforts to finally turn the goal of universal education into a reality.  

Lowey has represented southern New York congressional districts since 1989. She sits on the Appropriations Committee. Reichert has represented Washington's 8th Congressional District since 2005. He sits on the Ways and Means Committee.