United States - Education


The US is a top donor to education

The US was the third-largest donor country to education in 2019, spending US$1.5 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 5% of the US’ total ODA, meaning that its share was below the average of 8% spent by OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) donor countries on education.  

In 2019, the vast majority (93% or US$1.4 billion) of US education ODA was channeled bilaterally or as earmarked funding through multilateral organizations (which the OECD considers bilateral funding). Only 7% (US$112 million) of the US’ overall education ODA was disbursed as core contributions to multilateral organizations.

The US decreased its bilateral funding to education from US$1.6 billion in 2018 to US$1.4 billion in 2019, reflective of efforts from former President Donald Trump’s administration to make significant cuts to the International Affairs budget across the board. Most of the US’ 2019 funding was allocated to programs for basic education (75% of bilateral education ODA, or US$1.1 billion, down by 9% from US$1.3 billion in 2018), making the US by far the largest donor to this area. Within basic education, the US prioritizes primary education (US$894 million or 64% of bilateral education ODA in 2019), in line with United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID’s) new strategy for the sub-sector. School feeding was briefly a funding focus within basic education. After many years of not being funded, school feeding received 18% of bilateral education ODA (US$295 million) in 2018 before falling to 7% (US$97 million) in 2019. The US also spent US$159 million (11% of bilateral education ODA) on higher education.  

Of the US$1.4 billion in bilateral ODA to education, the US spent US$202 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$451 million between 2009 and 2021. For the GPE’s 2018-2020 replenishment period, the US pledged US$253 million, accounting for 9% 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$40 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 (US$93 million or 6% 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, P.L. 115-56, 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 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. In early 2019, Trump signed a law authorizing USAID to protect girls’ access to education in vulnerable settings and to 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.

Trump’s budget proposals repeatedly called for deep cuts to basic education ODA, but these were rejected each time by Congress. In FY2021, Congress funded basic education at US$950 million, an increase of US$75 million over FY2020. This figure included US$125 million for GPE and US$25 million for ECW. The McGovern-Dole International Food for Education program, which supports education in low-income, food-deficit countries, was funded at US$230 million in FY2021, a US$10 million increase over FY2020. President Joe Biden’s proposed FY2022 budget would hold funding for McGovern-Doyle steady; congressional funding levels for basic education are not yet known.

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 through placing volunteers in communities in low-income 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.  

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).