United States - Education

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The US is a top donor to education

The US was the third-largest donor country to education in 2020, spending US$1.4 billion on official development assistance (ODA) in the sector, according to data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This sum amounted to only 4% of the US’ total ODA, meaning that its share was below the average of 10% spent by OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) donor countries on education.  

In 2020, the vast majority (90%, or US$1.3 billion) of US education ODA was channeled bilaterally or as earmarked funding through multilateral organizations (which the OECD considers bilateral funding). Only 10% (US$140 million) of overall education ODA was disbursed as core contributions to multilaterals.  

The US slightly decreased its bilateral funding to education from US$1.4 billion in 2019 to US$1.3 billion in 2020. Most of the 2020 funding was allocated to programs for ‘basic education’ (80% of bilateral education ODA, or US$1 billion, down by 4% from US$1.1 billion in 2019), making the US the largest donor to this area by far. Within basic education, the US prioritizes ‘primary education’ (US$756 million, or 59% of bilateral education ODA in 2020), in line with United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID’s) new strategy for the sub-sector. ‘School feeding’ has become a funding focus within basic education. After many years of not being funded, ‘school feeding’ received 18% of bilateral education ODA (US$298 million) in 2018, falling to 7% (US$99 million) in 2019, before bouncing back up to 16% (US$201 million) in 2020. The US also spent US$114 million (9% of bilateral education ODA) on ‘higher education.’  

Of the US$1.3 billion in bilateral ODA to education, the US spent US$236 million as earmarked funding through multilaterals. The US is a consistent supporter of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE; a multilateral organization supporting education infrastructure in low-income countries), having contributed US$676 million between 2009 and 2022. At the Global Education Summit in July 2021, which was a call from GPE to mobilize US$5 billion in funding toward children’s education in the world’s lowest-income countries, the US made a three-year pledge of US$305 million, accounting for 8% of total pledges. The US is also a founding donor to ‘Education Cannot Wait’ (ECW), an international initiative launched in 2016 that aims to improve access to education services in humanitarian emergencies and crises. The US has committed a total of US$95 million to the fund since its founding in 2016.  

The small share of US education ODA disbursed as core contributions to multilaterals went primarily to the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA; 7% of total education ODA). 

Though education represents a small portion of US ODA, the US is active in the sector

In 2018, as a result of the READ Act of 2017, PL 115-56, USAID released a new strategy on basic education for 2019 - 2023, which focuses on 1) improving learning outcomes and 2) expanding access to basic education for all, with a focus on marginalized and vulnerable populations. The strategy recognizes the potential for investments in international education to pave the way for greater economic growth, improved health outcomes, sustained democratic governance, and more peaceful and resilient societies. As part of the new education policy, USAID has announced its plans to expand funding to private and religious schools in low-income countries, citing the need to provide access to education for children who are unable to attend public schools. 

The US has prioritized girls’ access to education. Under the current administration, the focus is breaking down gender-related barriers to education so that girls, women, and gender and sexual minorities have equal access to quality and inclusive education. There is a particular emphasis on also reversing the widening gap in equitable education caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Goals for breaking down these barriers are set by USAID endorsement of the G7’s ‘Declaration on Girls’ Education’ and the Sustainable Development Goal 4, which sets benchmarks for improved girls’ education in lower and lower-middle-income countries. 

In FY2023, President Joe Biden’s International Affairs Budget request included US$693 million for basic education, a 2% increase from the US$682 million requested in FY2022. The figure for FY2022 included US$125 million for GPE and US$18 million for ECW. The McGovern-Dole International Food for Education program, which supports education in low-income, food-deficit countries, is funded at US$265 million in FY2023, a US$28 million increase over FY2022. 

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 the US’ 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;  
  • 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; and 
  • 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.  

US Congress: 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. Important Congressional committees for US global education engagement include the House and Senate Committees on Foreign Affairs and their subcommittees as well as the Appropriations Committees of both chambers (for funding levels, including on education).