The US is the 4th-largest donor country to education; funding may increase slightly in FY2018, future of some programs unclear

The United States (US) is the fourth‑largest donor country to education after Germany, the United Kingdom (UK), and France. The US spent US$1.2 billion on education official development assistance (ODA) in 2015, according to the Organisation for Economic Co‑operation (OECD) data. However, to get a full picture of a donor’s cross-border flows of education assistance, it is important to exclude scholarships and other costs of students from developing countries studying in donor countries; some of these costs are reportable as ODA. If we exclude these costs, the US is the second‑largest donor to education, after the UK. Despite this, education is not currently a top funding priority: According to OECD data, in 2015, the US spent 3% of its total ODA on education, well below the average of 8% spent by OECD donor countries. This ranks the US 28th among the 29 OECD donor countries.

Though education represents a small portion of US ODA, the US has demonstrated leadership on global education, particularly in support of improving girls’ access to education. In 2015, the US government launched the interagency initiative ‘Let Girls Learn’, with an initial US$250 million in funding. It sets out a government-wide approach to leverage public and private partnerships for new solutions to address barriers to adolescent girls’ education. According to government data, Let Girls Learn has to date included more than US$1 billion in new and ongoing programming in more than 50 countries. The future of the program is currently unclear; it is under review by the Trump administration.

US education ODA is at risk as President Trump’s budget request for FY2018 (October 2017 to September 2018) proposes deep cuts to basic education funding. The budget request proposes to cut funding for basic education from US$800 million in FY2017 to US$378 million in FY2018, a 52% reduction. The House of Representatives’ (House) Appropriations Committee’s State-Foreign Operations appropriations bill (SFOPs), passed in July 2017, rejects these cuts, allocating US$800 million to basic education, of which US$87.5 million is designated for multilateral funding. On September 7, 2017, the Senate Appropriations’ Committee passed its SFOPs, including US$500 million to basic education, and US$75 million for multilateral funding.

Appropriations relevant to other education sub-sectors have also received backing from Congress: The House and Senate Appropriations Committee preserve FY2017 funding levels for global higher education at US$235 million, including US$35 million for institutional capacity building programs through partnerships with the US and developing countries. The House Appropriations Committee’s Agriculture appropriations bill includes US$185 million for the McGovern-Dole Food for Education and Child Nutrition program, below FY2017 levels of US$201.6 million, but which the president’s budget proposes to eliminate. This program aims to reduce hunger and improve literacy and primary education, especially for girls, through the provision of school meals and teacher training. In 2017, the program focused on 9 countries: Benin, Haiti, Laos, Liberia, Madagascar, Mauritania, Nepal, Nicaragua, and Republic of Congo. The Senate Appropriations Committee's agriculture appropriations bill gives US$206.6 million to the McGovern-Dole program.

For further details on methodology, see our Donor Tracker Codebook.

The US currently provides the majority of its education ODA as bilateral funding: 84%, or US$968 million in 2015, according to OECD data. The largest share of this was allocated to programs for basic education (73%, or US$705 million), making the US by far the largest donor to this area. The focus is almost entirely on primary education (99% of funding to basic education). Another funding focus is post‑secondary education (17%, or US$162 million in 2015).

For further details on methodology, see our Donor Tracker Codebook.

These funding patterns largely align with stated government priorities. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is the primary driver of the US’ global education efforts and aims “to ensure equitable access to inclusive, quality education for all.” Priorities are outlined in USAID’s 2011-2015 Education Strategy, which has been extended to 2017:

  • Improving reading skills of primary grade students to increase school success and completion.
  • Increasing employment opportunities for youth, and strengthening higher education systems, to enable youth to find good jobs and contribute to economic growth.
  • Increasing equitable access to education in crisis and conflict environments.

The US directs the largest portion of its bilateral education ODA to the poorest countries. One-third (33%) of bilateral funding from 2013-2015 was allocated to low-income countries (LICs), slightly above the share that OECD donor countries allocate to LICs on average (30%). Lower middle-income countries (LMICs) received the second largest share (31%). Asia is the largest recipient region (38%) and includes top recipients of US education support, Afghanistan (US$89 million, or 9% of bilateral education ODA) and Pakistan (US$66 million, 7%). Sub-Saharan Africa received 31% (US$303 million) of bilateral education ODA between 2013 and 2015, above the OECD donor country average of 25%.

The US government channels most bilateral funding through the public sector (28% between 2013 and 2015), which mainly includes direct support to partner country governments and funding implemented by US public agencies, like USAID. NGOs and civil society are also key implementers, delivering 28% of US bilateral education ODA.

In addition to its bilateral support, the US also provides education ODA through core contributions to multilateral organizations. In 2015, the US spent US$183 million or 16% of overall education ODA in multilateral education ODA, according to OECD data. The majority of this funding (US$138 million, or 75%) was core contributions to the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA). In addition, the US supports the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). It is the ninth-largest donor to GPE, having contributed US$199 million (as of March 2017) since joining GPE as a donor in 2009. The US provided US$40 million to GPE in 2015, which represents 3% of its overall education ODA for that year. At the GPE’s 2014 replenishment conference, the US pledged US$90 million for the 2015‑2018 funding period, and has increased its pledge since then to US$155 million: In November 2016, the US announced an increase in its 2016 contributions from a planned US$45 million to US$70 million, further increasing to US$75 million the following year. The US reports funding to GPE as bilateral ODA to the OECD.[4] In addition, the US participates on GPE’s board, sharing a constituency seat with Australia, Japan, and South Korea. USAID participates in ‘Local Education Groups’, a forum for coordination of GPE and education-related work in 40 GPE-funded countries, and is a coordinating agency of GPE’s work in eight countries.

The US is also a founding donor to ‘Education Cannot Wait’, an international initiative launched in 2016 that aims to improve access to education services in humanitarian emergencies and crises. The US committed US$21 million to the fund, making it the second-largest donor (others include: the UK, the EU, Norway, and the Netherlands). However, overall, education accounts for a small proportion of the US’ overall humanitarian assistance: 0.3%, or US$19 million, was allocated to the education sector in 2015, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The global average was 2% in 2015, half of the minimum 4% target established by the UN Global Education First Initiative (GEFI).

USAID’s Education Bureau drives global education policies; Congress sets funding levels, influences priorities, and authorizes programs

Several US agencies fund and implement education programs, including USAID, Peace Corps, Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), Departments of State, Commerce, Agriculture, and the Interior.  Three entities manage 92% of total education ODA: USAID, the Peace Corps, and MCC.

  • Under the guidance of the White House, USAID shapes and implements education foreign assistance in close coordination with the Department of State. Within the parameters of USAID’s 2011-2015 Education Strategy, the Bureau for Economic Growth, Education, and Environment drives global education policies and approaches. Five regional bureaus – for Africa, Asia, Europe and Eurasia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Middle East – also provide sectoral technical and strategic leadership within their geographic jurisdictions.
  • The Peace Corps is a volunteer program run by the US government, which provides technical assistance and facilitates cultural exchange through placing volunteers in communities in developing countries. Over one-third of Peace Corps volunteers work within the education sector, helping to implement Let Girls Learn.
  • The MCC was established in 2004 and provides multi-year development compacts to countries who have committed to political, economic, and social reforms on economic development with the goal to reduce poverty through economic growth. MCC conducts education programs in El Salvador, Georgia, and Morocco.

Congress is a key stakeholder as it approves funding levels for US foreign assistance. Members of Congress can also set priorities through legislative directives, and authorize new programs and initiatives with the potential to significantly shape US development assistance. One example of this is the ‘Reinforcing Education and Accountability in Development’ (READ) Act, which was signed into law on September 8, 2017. The READ Act promotes quality basic education within US foreign assistance. It requires the development of a comprehensive, integrated US strategy to improve and address key barriers to basic education, especially for girls, and promotes education services in emergency and conflict settings. The Act also seeks to improve the transparency, accountability, and aid effectiveness of programs, and creates a new position at USAID: senior coordinator of US Basic Education Assistance. Important congressional committees for US global education engagement include: House and Senate Committees on Foreign Affairs and their subcommittees (which, among other things, cover the US’ global education policy) as well as the Appropriations Committees of both chambers (for funding levels, including on education). In addition, several informal congressional groups called ‘caucuses’, which meet to pursue common legislative goals, discuss global education-related matters. Examples of these include the International Basic Education Caucus and the Congressional Caucus for Effective Foreign Assistance, which studies the impact of and way the US delivers foreign assistance, including for global education programs.