A spending bill passed by the House this month provides funding for U.S. membership in UNESCO, the often-controversial United Nations education group that this country withdrew from 17 years ago.
The action by the House came at the urging of a number of education groups, which say the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization can make a large contribution to furthering education and literacy in Third World countries. (“Return to UNESCO?” March 21, 2001.)
UNESCO “can and does increase the number of people who are literate,” wrote the International Reading Association’s president, Alan E. Farstrup, in a letter to the White House on the matter. “Without such literacy skills, the bonds of poverty are impossible to break.”
The House allotted the nearly $60 million required for annual UNESCO dues in its foreign-relations appropriations bill, which passed May 16.
The United States dropped out of UNESCO in 1984 over concerns about the organization’s management.
Membership in the U.N. and its specialty groups has long been a point of contention in Washington. Many Republicans, in particular, argue that the organization is a waste of money and gives too large a voice to nondemocratic nations.
Aid for Cuba
An amendment offered by Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., to remove the funding for UNESCO dues from the appropriations bill failed, 225-193. Mr. Tancredo cited recent reports that the organization’s new director-general, Koichiro Matsura of Japan, plans to use millions of dollars of UNESCO’s funds to help restore colonial Havana, Cuba.
Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., called UNESCO “an organization truly in search of a mission.”
“Currently, the U.S. gives approximately $3 million each year on a voluntary basis to support educational, scientific, and cultural projects which we feel are worthwhile, whereas if we were to become a member [of UNESCO], we would be funding good and bad projects alike,” he said.
The Senate has not acted on the issue. The White House press office did not respond to a request for President Bush’s position on rejoining UNESCO.
A version of this article appeared in the May 23, 2001 edition of Education Week as House Allocates Money For Rejoining UNESCO