The US is the 4th-largest donor country to education; funding maintained in FY2018 budget bill, while new legislation requires new comprehensive education strategy

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 data from the Organisation for Economic Co‑operation and Development (OECD). 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, due to France’s and Germany’s high student costs. Despite this, education is not currently a top funding priority: According to OECD data, in 2015 (the latest year for which full sectoral data is available), the US spent 4% of its total ODA on education, well below the average of 8% spent by OECD donor countries. This ranks the US 28th among members of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC).

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

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

Though education represents a small portion of US ODA, the US has in the past 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’, which sets out a government-wide approach to leverage public and private partnerships for new solutions to address barriers to adolescent girls’ education. According to US 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.

US education ODA was cut by President Trump’s budget request for fiscal year (FY) 2018, which proposed deep cuts of 52% to basic education funding, from US$800 million in FY2017 to US$378 million in FY2018. Congress did not accept these cuts, instead maintaining funding for basic education at US$800 million in the FY2018 State and Foreign Operations (SFOPs) appropriations bill, included in the omnibus bill passed on March 21, 2018 (see question four: ‘How is the US’ ODA budget structured?’). US$87.5 million of these funds are earmarked for multilateral organizations. FY2018 appropriations relevant to other education sub-sectors have also received backing from Congress but were targeted for cuts in the president’s budget request. This includes US$235 million for higher education, US$35 million of which is specified for institutional capacity-building programs through partnerships with the US and developing countries. The president’s FY2018 budget request also proposed eliminating the McGovern-Dole Food for Education and Child Nutrition program. 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. The FY2018 omnibus bill gives this program US$208 million, slightly above FY2017 levels of US$202 million, due to bipartisan support in Congress. 

The passing of the ‘Reinforcing Education and Accountability in Development’ (READ) Act into law on September 8, 2017, demonstrates the bipartisan support for education assistance, and also provides a solid platform from which to further advocate education ODA levels. The READ Act, which promotes quality basic education within US foreign assistance, 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. It also seeks to improve the transparency, accountability, and effectiveness of education assistance programs, and creates a new position at USAID: senior coordinator of US Basic Education Assistance, who will be responsible for the development, implementation, and coordination of US basic education programs.

Despite Congress’ pushback to cuts to education included in the president’s FY2018 budget request, the president’s FY2019 budget request, released on February 12, 2018, again asks for dramatic cuts, including a 51% reduction to basic education from FY2017 levels. In addition, the president’s request for FY2019 again proposes eliminating the McGovern-Dole Food for Education and Child Nutrition program.

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

The US currently provides US$1.5 billion of its education ODA as bilateral funding in 2016, according to OECD data. The biggest share of this was allocated to programs for basic education (79%, or US$1.2 billion), making the US by far the largest donor to this area. The focus is almost entirely on primary education (95% of funding to basic education). Another funding focus in 2016 was post-secondary education (15%, or US$224 million). 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.”

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

Priorities are outlined in USAID’s 2011-2015 Education Strategy, which was 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 strategy also emphasizes partnerships to maximize the impact of US educational activities.

The US directs the largest portion of its bilateral education ODA to the poorest countries. Above one-third (37%) of bilateral funding from 2014 to 2016 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%). Sub-Saharan Africa is the largest recipient region (31%), followed by Asia (29%). In 2016, top bilateral recipients of US education support were Afghanistan (US$101 million, or 7% of bilateral education ODA) and Pakistan (US$116 million, 8%), followed by Jordan (US$42 million, or 5%).

The US government channels large shares of its bilateral assistance as earmarked funding through multilaterals (21% in 2016), which first surpassed the public sector as the priority channel in2014 and has remained the largest since. NGOs and civil society are also key implementers, delivering 25% of US bilateral education ODA, followed by the public (20%) and private (19%) sectors.

The US also provides education ODA through core contributions to multilateral organizations. In 2015, US$186 million or 16% of the US’ overall education ODA came from core contributions to multilaterals. The bulk of this funding (US$140 million, or 75%) went to the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA). In addition, the US supports the GPE. It is the ninth-largest donor to GPE, having contributed US$199 million (as of December 2017) since joining GPE as a donor in 2009. At the GPE’s 2014 replenishment conference, the US pledged US$90 million for the 2015-2018 funding period. It 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. For the organization’s 2018-2020 replenishment period, the US has pledged US$75 million. The US reports funding to GPE as bilateral ODA to the OECD. 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 for GPE’s work in eight countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Honduras, Liberia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Somalia).

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).

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: 0.8%, or US$27 million, was allocated to the education sector in 2016, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The global average was 2.7% in 2016, 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), and the departments of State, Commerce, Agriculture, and the Interior. Three entities manage most of US education ODA (97% in 2017): 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 that 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 that 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 READ Act (see above). 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’, meet to pursue common legislative goals and 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 the way that the US delivers foreign assistance, including for global education programs.