Access to education is paramount for a child’s success in life. Without education, children are unlikely to develop the social and educational skills required to live a healthy, fulfilling lifestyle.
The International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) state as much, mandating that free and compulsory primary education be available to all. Both have almost universal membership, with 164 States party to the ICESCR and 196 party to the CRC.
These conventions were released for signature in 1966 and 1989, respectively, but as of 2013, there were still 124 million children in the world not in school. In places like the Syrian Arab Republic, the dramatic rise in out-of-school children since 2000, the year the Republic “achieved universal primary enrollment,” has largely been the result of armed conflict. Limited resources are also adversely affecting the global goal of universal access to education for children.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said that “aid to education remains inadequate and not well targeted.” Moreover, ethnic origin, language, and poverty are also negatively impacting access to education worldwide. Poverty can greatly affect a child’s ability to access education. This is particularly true when a child is forced to leave school to help provide for the family, is suffering illnesses due to malnutrition, or is lacking parental support because of their own illiteracy.
Although the United States has not ratified either the ICESCR or CRC, it has come far in achieving the goal of providing free and compulsory education to all. However, more work must be done: the U.S. must also ensure that children receive a quality education. In the United States, dropout rates have declined over the years but are still considerably higher for minority groups, like Black and Hispanic students, than they are for white students. In some states, high school graduation rates are at least 20 percent higher for white students than for Black or Hispanic students.
According to a report by the National Center for Education Statistics, in low-poverty schools during the 2012-2013 school year, 29 percent of white students were eligible for free lunches, while only 7 percent of Black and 8 percent of Hispanic students were eligible. In high-poverty schools, on the other hand, only 8 percent of white students were eligible for free lunches while 45 percent of Black and Hispanic students were eligible. This suggests that a greater number of Black and Hispanic students are located in high-poverty schools while a greater number of white students are located in low-poverty schools.
How do we solve these disparities? The Global Partnership for Education says that education is the essential element to achieve “no poverty, zero hunger, decent work and economic growth, reduced inequalities,” and thirteen other global goals that 193 world leaders have committed to accomplish by 2030. The Global Partnership for Education also states that a poor quality of education can be comparable to not receiving an education at all.
In March of this year, the Education Trust released a report on state and local funding for schools. It found that only six of the forty-seven states surveyed gave the highest-poverty districts 5 percent, or more, less funding per student than they gave the lowest-poverty districts. Twenty-four other states gave similar funding to the highest and lowest-poverty schools. The report stressed that this is problematic because students in the lowest-poverty districts need additional resources to account for additional necessities, such as extra educational materials and a closer relationship with outside service providers, namely, foster care and healthcare systems. The Education Trust estimates that the highest-poverty districts need an additional 40 percent of funding per student to help adequately educate them.
As of 2014, 38 percent of the white labor force, aged 25 and up, had received a bachelor’s degree, along with 27 percent of the Black labor force, and only 19 percent of the Hispanic labor force. When it came to earnings, the white labor force brought home between $54-$281 more per week than the Black or Hispanic labor force. States could work to close these gaps by allocating additional resources to high-poverty schools, but there is not much support to require them to do so because of the 1973 Supreme Court decision in San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez that ruled education is not a fundamental right, and that “there is no right to equal funding in education under the U.S. Constitution.” In order to truly help students, the U.S. needs to abandon this ideology and join the rest of the world in accepting education as a fundamental human right.