As part of ONE’s briefing to the presidential transition team, we recommended that President-Elect Obama follow through on his commitment to prioritize global education by scaling up U.S. funding for basic education to reach $3 billion annually. This recommendation is based on the President-Elect’s own commitments during the campaign: Obama pledged to capitalize a $2 billion “Global Education Fund” and to leverage U.S. commitments through the Fast Track Initiative, a financing mechanism that coordinates increased resources for countries whose education plans have been technically vetted and endorsed. Obama reiterated this commitment at the Clinton Global Initiative in September, and also said he looked forward to signing the Education for All Act, bipartisan legislation which would provide $10 billion in funding for education over five years.
Following through on these commitments could go a long way towards erasing the global education gap. Currently, 75 million children (more than half of whom are girls) are not enrolled in primary school. Nearly half of these children live in Africa and one-third live in fragile states. These out-of-school children represent a serious lost opportunity in the fight against extreme poverty and disease. With its widespread impacts on health, education, democratic development and economic growth, education is one of the most critical tools available to help poor countries forge a pathway out of poverty. The case for expanding access to education is even stronger amidst the current economic climate- investments in education are long-term and will reap benefits for communities and nations for generations to come.
In FY08, the U.S. appropriated $694 million for global education (primarily through the Development Assistance account and the Economic Support Fund), a large portion of which was directed to Pakistan and also programs such as the African Education Initiative, which provides learning materials like teacher training, scholarships and textbooks. The U.S. does not currently provide significant funding to country budgets to help governments alleviate systemic costs like teacher salaries and administrative fees. As a result, many countries are forced to pass such recurrent costs on to families through school fees or testing fees, which can prevent children of the poorest families from attending.
The timing is ripe for a significant new U.S. investment in global education. In addition to Obama’s commitments on the campaign trail, bipartisan support for the Education for All Act indicates that there would be backing in Congress for a new U.S. commitment to basic education. ONE is also confident that President-Elect Obama’s appointment of EFA champion Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State is an indication that basic education (and development more broadly) will be a foreign policy priority for the next Administration.
Moreover, a substantial new American commitment would inject momentum into the growing global campaign towards education for all. Donors like the UK and the Netherlands have led the way in scaling up international support for basic education- the UK, for example, has pledged to invest $15 billion in universal primary education by 2015, and last year Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced a partnership with France to put 16 million children into school in Africa by 2010. A significant new commitment from the Obama Administration would not only bolster efforts such as these, but would challenge new donors to boost their contribution to basic education. Combined, these commitments could prove transformational for children and communities across the globe.