February 19, 2003 2 min read

Backing to Basic

International education got good marks from the Bush administration in the president’s 2004 budget plan, released earlier this month. Then Congress followed up last week with what amounts to a gold star, some advocates for international education say.

In his fiscal 2004 budget, President Bush increased his funding recommendations for international education efforts by $47 million over last year’s proposal, to $212 million. But as Congress nailed down spending bills for fiscal 2003 last week, the lawmakers took the endorsement further, appropriating $218 million for that program, called Basic Education. The U.S. Agency for International Development administers the initiative.

In addition, Congress approved $37 million through the Department of Labor in fiscal 2003 for basic education efforts to deter child labor overseas.

Advocates such as George Ingram, the executive director of the Basic Education Coalition, are pleased. “There’s not a frown on my face today,” said Mr. Ingram, whose Washington-based coalition includes 16 development organizations.

The Basic Education Coalition and others are pushing the Education for All effort, which aims at getting all primary-school-age children in poor countries into school by 2015.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, which the United States is rejoining after an 18-year absence, oversees that effort.

On Feb. 13, just as Congress was taking final action the 2003 spending plan and the boost for overseas education, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige spoke at UNESCO’s literacy celebration held in New York. Mr. Paige talked about the importance of reading and said the United States is “literally transforming our schools by holding them accountable for student progress.”

He also said that with 860 million illiterate adults and more than 100 million children without access to school worldwide, it will be a challenge to attain the Education for All goals.

“But ours is a small world and our futures are inextricable linked,” he said, according to prepared remarks released by Department of Education. “And one person who cannot read is one person too many.”

Education for All hopes to promote primary school literacy, mathematics, and cognitive skills among children in poor countries. Though the challenge of getting those children all over the world into schools by 2015 is a daunting one, Mr. Ingram believes it can be accomplished.

“In the last 12 to 18 months, momentum has been building to take this goal seriously,” he said.

—Michelle R. Davis