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Education holds key to escaping poverty

Perhaps the great American dream began in 1838. You know — You can achieve anything if you work hard and learn how to do it. Horace Mann led the Massachusetts legislature to create public education in 1838. He wanted the public to rise out of ignorance through education that was paid for and sustained by an interested public. No matter what their economic means, all children would get an education that would act as the underpinning of their success. • This educated citizenry is the foundation of our national success, both in our productive output and our successful democracy. It allows us to sustain a high quality of living, individual freedom, and personal and national security.

But we now have a cycle of poverty that many can't break due to their lack of education. Studies show that children's performance in school directly correlates to the income of their families. We have 1.8 million children living in poverty in Florida. How do we break this cycle? And why should we care? Poverty in America is growing, and the costs of poverty to our community grow as well, ranging from drug problems to community-supplied services to prison costs. Research shows that we save $7 for every dollar we invest in improving children's education.

We have too many children failing in our public schools. Fortunately, we had the good sense to create a successful program to support children's ability to perform adequately in school, Head Start. It helps 3- and 4-year-olds from low-income families prepare so they can come to kindergarten as equals with kids from middle-class homes. Head Start provides early education and other support children and their families need.

Unfortunately, only 50 percent of eligible kids are getting into Head Start, due to insufficient funding. So there are waiting lists. Those who don't make it into high quality early childhood development programs can expect difficulties during and even after their school years. A study of Chicago's child-parent centers in Science magazine found that, as adults, they are 27 percent more likely to have been arrested for a felony by age 28, and 39 percent more likely to suffer from drug or alcohol abuse. Those who attended are 21 percent more likely to graduate from high school on time, 31 percent more likely to attend a four-year college, and, as they begin their earning careers, they earn 7 percent more annually.

In 2011 federal budget, House leaders tried to deeply cut Head Start, but eventually cooler heads prevailed and funding was restored. While the Senate's work on appropriations in 2012 shows good support, the House is again looking to cut funding. The House must not lose sight of the trees for the forest and should must sustain this proven, effective program.

The situation abroad is somewhat the same and somewhat different. That children of poverty don't perform well starts with the fact 67 million don't have any access to education. Their families and their countries will never break the poverty cycle without education. It is the underpinning for their success just as it is for ours.

Why should we care? First, we have a moral and humanitarian responsibility. Moreover, many groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and retired general officers of the U.S. military have called on Congress to help developing nations. This aid would increase political stability, reduce the breeding ground for terrorists, and increase the economic development of America's international trading partners.

The House is considering the Education for All Act of 2011 (HR 2705), which assures the best use of our foreign aid dollars. It calls for education for girls and war-torn areas and funding the Global Partnership for Education, a multilateral fund with proven success. Educating girls is probably the best way of helping developing nations. The underlying principle is supported by Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, and by many from both parties in the House. But while 49 representatives have co-sponsored HR 2705, only one is a Republican: Rep. Dave Reichert of Washington.

There is nothing partisan about this act. It would be thoughtless to have it stymied by the partisan political bickering in Washington. Bipartisan support also would sway President Barack Obama to make a strong pledge at the Nov. 7 Global Partnership for Education replenishment conference in Copenhagen.

Ken Schatz is a Tampa resident and a volunteer with RESULTS, an organization committed to end poverty.

Education holds key to escaping poverty 10/30/11 [Last modified: Sunday, October 30, 2011 4:30am]
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