FLN Profile: United States

Last updated: February 23, 2024


ODA for education

In 2021, the US spent US$1.4 billion on ODA to education, making the US the third-largest donor country to education in terms of absolute funding. However, the amount only represented 3% of the US’ total ODA that year, meaning that its share of funding to the education sector was below the DAC average of 9%.

The US$1.4 billion in ODA provided by the US included both funding channeled bilaterally as well as multilaterally. Of this, the vast majority (94%, or US$1.3 billion) of US education ODA was channeled bilaterally or as earmarked funding through multilateral organizations. Only 6% (US$78 million) of overall education ODA was disbursed as core contributions to multilaterals.

ODA funding benefitting the FLN sector

Using a ‘key-word search’ methodology based on OECD data, estimates show that in 2021, of the US$1.3 billion that the US channeled bilaterally to the education sector, 57%, or US$728 million, was channeled to the primary education sub-sector. Analyses of FLN programs within the primary education sub-sector indicate that 24% (US$308 million) of the US’ total bilateral funding to the education sector targeted programs with FLN outcomes.

This makes the US the largest donor to FLN in primary education in 2021 among DAC donor countries.

US bilateral funding to FLN has fluctuated between 2017-2021, both in absolute and relative terms. Within that period, absolute funding was highest in 2019 at US$463 million. When comparing relative funding values (measuring FLN as a % of US bilateral ODA to education) funding peaked in 2019 when it represented 31% of bilateral ODA to education.

In addition to bilateral support, US funding to multilaterals is also likely to benefit FLN. The US provides substantial financial and technical support to two multilateral organizations: GPE and ECW, both of which have a strong thematic focus on basic education and foundational learning outcomes. The US has provided US$676 million between 2009 and 2022 to GPE and committed a total of US$95 million to ECW since its founding in 2016. Some of this funding is expected to benefit FLN-related programs.

Funding channels

In 2021, 67%, or US$206 million, of the US’ bilateral funding to FLN was channeled to ‘project type interventions’, meaning specific projects agreed upon with partner countries. The remaining 33%, or US$102 million, was channeled as core contributions to specific-purpose programs and funds managed by implementing partners.

Financing type

All financing to FLN (derived based on this specific methodology) was channeled in the form of grants. Information from USAID indicates that the US provides financing for FLN through grants and contracts.

Key recipients

Results of the ‘key-word search’ methodology developed to assess donor financing for FLN show that the top recipients of US funding for FLN in 2021 were to 'unspecified countries' (receiving US$102 million), Jordan (receiving US$15 million), Lebanon (US$13 million), Nigeria (US$12 million) and Senegal (US$11 million).

The 2022 US Government Strategy on International Basic Education provides insight into the type of projects the US facilitated in the fields of basic education and FLN in FY2022. These include programs on:

  • Increasing literacy outcomes such as those conducted in Malawi;
  • Strengthening early grade instruction in Mozambique;
  • Supporting foundational literacy in Rwanda; and
  • Early grade reading activity in the Philippines.

Similarly, the Learning at Scale report (published in 2021) provides examples of USAID projects on FLN, including programs on:

  • Early grade learning in Ghana, 2016-2019;
  • Early grade learning program in Kenya, 2017-2018;
  • Early grade reading and teacher training in Senegal, 2016-2021;
  • Improving access to basic education in Nigeria, 2015-2021;
  • Reading in Pakistan, 2013-2020;
  • Improving reading skills in India, 2016-2020; and
  • Scaling up early reading interventions in India, 2009-2015.

Policy priorities

Education sector

Overall, the US is one of the largest DAC donor countries to the education sector. In recent years, the US has increased its policy prioritization of the education sector within development cooperation efforts, particularly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the current scale of US funding to this sector is also due in part to the fact that the US is among the largest donor countries to the development sector overall.

The US Congress, with bi-partisan support, acknowledges the potential of education to advance American foreign assistance objectives. According to USAID's 2018 Education Policy, supporting education through development cooperation helps the US “achieve sustained, measurable improvements in learning outcomes and skills development” in partner countries. Accordingly, US financing for education is aimed at helping recipient countries “measurably improve key learning and educational outcomes (…) in a way that promotes quality, equity, sustainability, and advances self-reliance.”

The US also views the provision of education support as a means of enhancing its national security and foreign policy objectives. In this regard, the US understands education as a tool and means to help partner countries to “promote healthy, educated, and productive populations in partner countries to drive inclusive and sustainable development, open new markets, and support the US’s prosperity and security objectives.”

Basic education and FLN

Within its development cooperation efforts in the education sector, the US focuses heavily on the thematic sub-sector of ‘basic education.’ The 2017 Reinforcing Education Accountability in Development (READ) Act, (Division A, Public Law 115-56), enshrines the US’ commitment to supporting education in low- and middle-income countries in law. This bill amends the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 to state that it shall be US policy to work with partner countries, other donors, multilateral institutions, the private sector, and nongovernmental and CSOs (including faith-based organizations) to promote basic education through programs that:

  • Respond to the needs and capacities of developing countries to improve literacy and other basic skills;
  • Strengthen educational systems, expand access to safe learning environments (including by breaking down barriers to basic education for women and girls), and support the engagement of parents in their children's education;
  • Promote education as a foundation for economic growth; and
  • Monitor and evaluate the effectiveness and quality of basic education programs in partner countries.

The 2018 US Government strategic approach to basic education is also outlined in the 2019-2023 US Government Strategy on International Basic Education. Under this, the the US focuses on two key components within basic education: improving learning outcomes and expanding access to quality basic education for all, particularly marginalized populations. Within this sub-sectoral focus of basic education and associated components, the US works to promote FLN outcomes.

Focus on FLN

FLN is considered a key goal of the US’ development cooperation interventions in the ‘basic education’ sub-sector. Interventions in FLN are led and monitored by USAID and its associated 2018 USAID Education Policy which aims to achieve sustained, measurable improvements in learning outcomes and skills development. Within this policy, FLN is highlighted as a key priority of the US’ support for partner countries. Accordingly, FLN is included as one of the four priority areas under the USAID 2018 Education Policy that aims to ensure that "children and youth gain literacy, numeracy, and social-emotional skills that are foundational to future learning and success."

In addition to the 2018 US Government strategic approach to basic education, USAID released the 2018 Learning Agenda which outlined the US’ approach to enhancing FLN in partner countries. The document describes key interventions the US uses to facilitate FLN outcomes in partner countries, which include:

  • Ensuring systems strengthening within partner countries to deliver foundational learning skills;
  • Facilitating coaching and mentoring for improved teacher performance and learning outcomes; and
  • Assessing community and household factors critical for ensuring learners have the environment and resources necessary to practice reading and math outside of school.

FLN thematic focus areas

In order to understand the US's thematic focus areas within FLN, one could refer to the 2018 US Government strategic approach to basic education which outlines “most effective approaches” to facilitating FLN outcomes. These approaches, when put together, offer insight into the US’ usual methods of working with partner countries on FLN and highlight the US' focus areas in the sector. These outlined approaches are indicative of the US' thematic focus areas in FLN, including:

  • Under pre-primary education:
    • Supporting the holistic development of a broad set of early skills across physical, social-emotional, cognitive, and other domains;
    • Matching pre-primary education with clear transitions to primary education; and
    • Conducting school readiness assessments to ensure that children possess the skills, knowledge, and attitudes necessary for success in school.
  • Under reading and literacy skills:
    • Promoting quality teacher instruction and ensuring sufficient instructional time;
    • Producing and distributing high-quality textbooks and supplementary materials;
    • Employing a language of instruction that students and their families use and understand, including local languages, based on evidence-based best practices;
    • Differentiating instruction to reach children at different levels; and
    • Using assessments to support instruction.
  • Under numeracy skills:
    • Using participatory approaches such as problem-solving for facilitating numeracy skills;
    • Tailoring numeracy programs to the needs of children, particularly girls, whose participation and achievement in mathematics remains lower than boys; and
    • Preparing teachers with the knowledge and appropriate, differentiated instructional approaches for facilitating numeracy skills.
  • Under the area of facilitating social and emotional skills as part of the foundational development of children:
    • Integrating social and emotional skills in the academic curricula, from pre-primary through primary school and beyond, to enable students to apply the concepts directly to specific technical subjects or sectors; and
    • Developing activities and classroom routines that promote self-reflection and self-assessment in children.

Impact and Outlook

Impact of support to FLN in 2022

Overall, in terms of the US' reach and impact in ‘basic education’ (under which FLN programs and interventions are included), estimates from the FY2022 US Government strategy on international basic education and report to Congress outline that, in FY2022, the US has:

  • Provided nearly 30 million primary and secondary-aged students in 73 countries with opportunities to learn literacy, numeracy, and other basic skills (in formal and nonformal settings, including in local languages);
  • Trained and provided professional development to over 821,000 teachers and educators;
  • Distributed more than 12 million textbooks and other teaching and learning materials; and
  • Engaged with more than 28,000 parent-teacher associations or community-based school-governance structures.

Expected development of support for FLN in 2023 and beyond

Funding trends indicate that the US’ focus on FLN within its development cooperation efforts in education will increase moderately or continue at the same rate, at least in the coming years.

This is indicated by the fact that in FY2023, President Joe Biden’s International Affairs Budget request included US$693 million for basic education, marking a 2% increase from the US$682 million requested in FY2022, and that the 2019-2023 US Government Strategy on International Basic Education ensures that basic education, and within it FLN, will remain a priority strategically until 2023.


Three entities manage most of the US’ education ODA, including ODA for education and projects focused on FLN. These include USAID, the Peace Corps, and MCC.

  • USAID leads the US’ development cooperation efforts in education. The USFLN interventions are counted under the ‘basic education’ sub-sector, which is primarily managed by USAID's Center for Education within the DDI. Under the guidance of the White House, USAID shapes and implements education foreign assistance in close coordination with the Department of State.
  • The Peace Corps is a volunteer program run by the US government that provides technical assistance and facilitates cultural exchange by placing volunteers in communities in low-income countries. The Peace Corps’ strategy for education exemplifies the agency’s unique approach to development—working across cultures in underserved communities and partnering with people to develop the capacity to improve their own lives. The Peace Corps supports education in childhood literacy, math and science, and English as a Foreign Language in 52 countries around the world. Under the Global Education Framework, USAID and the Peace Corps jointly support projects on developing programs for promoting data-driven education decision-making at the country level, training for teachers, volunteer English language teaching programs, education assessments, and creating enabling classroom environments for early grade learning and literacy.
  • The MCC provides multi-year development compacts to countries that have committed to political, economic, and social reforms on economic development with the goal to reduce poverty through economic growth. MCC’s strategy on education focuses on supporting basic education in countries with the aim of setting the stage for human development and country-level growth. Program interventions supported by the MCC include improving access and quality to education that aligns with the needs of the national economy, enhancing gender equality in education, strengthening coordination of teacher training, improving education management, and conducting pilot interventions to reform education systems to improve students' future employability.
  • Other agencies involved in ODA for education and FLN include the US Department of State, the Treasury, the Department of Labor, the Department of Education, and the Department of Defense.

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