United States - Education

17 - US education - total bilateral/multilateral

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

18 - Education ranking absolute - US

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

19 - Education ranking relative - US

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

The US is a key donor to education

The United States (US) was the second-largest donor country to education in 2016 (the latest year for which multilateral and bilateral OECD data is available), having spent US$1.7 billion on education official development assistance (ODA), according to data from the Organisation for Economic Co operation and Development (OECD). This amounted to only 5% of the US’ total ODA, meaning that the share it spends on education is below the average of 8% spent by OECD DAC donor countries. In 2016, most of the US’ education ODA was channeled bilaterally or as earmarked funding through multilateral organizations (which the OECD considers bilateral funding). Only 10% (US$169 million) of the US’ overall education ODA was disbursed as core contributions to multilaterals.

Bilateral ODA focuses on basic education , in line with USAID’s new strategy for the sub-sector

The US provided US$1.6 billion of its education ODA as bilateral funding in 2018 with almost no change over 2017, according to OECD data. In 2018, this accounted for 5% of the US’ total bilateral ODA spending. Most was allocated to programs for basic education (82% of bilateral education ODA, or US$1.3 billion, up by US$53 million from 2017), making the US by far the largest donor to this area. Within basic education, the US emphasizes primary education (US$966 million or 60% of bilateral education ODA), in line with USAID’s new strategy for the sub-sector (see below for more details). Another funding focus within basic education was school feeding, which jumped from no funding in the past five years to 18% of bilateral education ODA (US$290 million) in 2018. The US also spent US$188 (12% of bilateral education ODA) on secondary education.

The US is a founding donor to Education Cannot Wait and is ninth-largest donor to Global Partnership for Education

The US is a consistent supporter of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), having contributed US$361 million between 2009 and 2020. For the GPE’s 2018-2020 replenishment period, the US pledged US$163 million, accounting for 7% of total pledges. 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. Meanwhile, 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 (Ethiopia, Liberia, Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan).

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$58 million to the fund for its 2017-2020 replenishment cycle, making it the fifth-largest donor (following the UK, Norway, Denmark, and Germany).

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, P.L. 115-56, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) released a new strategy on basic education for 2019 to 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 “serve as a force multiplier” for other development efforts, by paving 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 developing 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. The Let Girls Learn Initiative was launched in 2015 by First Lady Michele Obama and provided more than US$1.0 billion in funding across 50+ countries. The program was discontinued in 2017, although the US is still active in the education sector. In early 2019, President Trump signed a law authorizing USAID to protect girls’ access to education in vulnerable settings and collect better disaggregated data on girls’ education. The law also created a new position at USAID: Senior Coordinator of US Basic Education Assistance, responsible for the development, implementation, and coordination of US basic education programs.>/p>

President Trump’s budget proposals have repeatedly called for deep cuts to basic education ODA, but these have been consistently rejected by Congress. In FY2020, Congress funded basic education at US$875 million, an increase of US$75 million over FY2019. This figure includes US$100 million for GPE and US$25 million for Education Cannot Wait. For FY2021, the Administration’s budget proposes decreasing funding to education by 8%, although such cuts are likely to be rejected. The McGovern-Dole Food for Education program, which supports education in low-income, food-deficit countries, was funded at US$220 million in FY2020, a US$10 million increase over FY2019.

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 developing countries.
  • 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.

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: 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).