06/26/2014 03:22 pm ET Updated Aug 26, 2014

Our Chance to Get 29 Million Children Into School

Co-authored by Benedicto Kondowe

The two of us live nine time zones and what may seem like a world apart -- western Malawi and the Pacific Northwest of the United States -- but we both know firsthand the power of education. We were both the first in our families to attend college. And we were both fortunate to be born into communities that could prioritize our schooling from an early age, setting us on the paths to where we are today.

Not all children are so lucky.

Today more than 57 million children worldwide aren't in school at all. Even among those who do make it to classrooms, many aren't learning even the basics. A staggering 40 percent of all school-age children worldwide can't read a single sentence.

The Global Partnership for Education is one of our best tools for improving education in some of the poorest and most challenging environments worldwide. The Global Partnership brings all the right people together -- governments, donors, the private sector, and community groups -- to develop long-term education solutions. It then helps provide resources to put those solutions into action. Thanks to its proven model, places like Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are now implementing their first-ever national education plans.

Today is our chance to show the world's children that we're serious about their future. Today the Global Partnership for Education is inviting donors like the United States to make financial commitments to education. If donors can raise $3.5 billion, it can help unlock an additional $16 billion from developing nation governments like Malawi. Together, that money will support quality education for 29 million more children. It's tough to imagine a better investment.

The United States should do its part, committing $250 million over the next two years to the Global Partnership for Education. That commitment would answer recent calls from Congress and, even more importantly, help fulfill our responsibility to the world's children.

The world gets smaller every day, and the failure to address the global education crisis has consequences for everyone. Education is fundamental to building strong societies, from Seattle to Lilongwe. Investments in education for children today help build a healthier, safer, more prosperous future for our own children in the years ahead. As we work to improve education in the United States, we cannot afford to ignore education challenges in the rest of the world. Doing our part to help the world's children grow into engaged, empowered successful adults makes for safer and more prosperous societies, which can create new economic opportunities for the United States and prevent future national security issues.

Elementary school classes with 200 kids and only one teacher. Textbooks shared by 10 or more students. Children working off of bricks under a tree, rather than at desks in a classroom. These kinds of learning conditions are the reality in many parts of Malawi. The government and other groups in Malawi are deeply committed to change; they're training teachers, building new classrooms. The Malawi government is investing more than 20 percent of its budget in education. A similar pattern holds in dozens of the poorest countries worldwide. But the Global Partnership is essential to bridging the gaps that remain, ensuring even the poorest and most vulnerable children receive the schooling they deserve.

We both want the best for our children, we both want the best for our countries, and we both want the best for our world. We must stay committed to overcoming the very real education challenges that remain in the United States and around the world. We cannot afford to view those challenges as "ours" and "theirs." We share one future, and today we share the responsibility of making sure it's a bright one.

Jim McDermott is a U.S. representative from Washington state and a former psychiatrist in the U.S. Navy. He is a senior member of the House Budget Committee and the Committee on Ways and Means. Follow McDermott on Twitter and Facebook.

Benedicto Kondowe is the executive director of the Civil Society Education Coalition in Malawi.