Earlier this month 190 organizations joined a Call to Action on the domestic financing of education post-COVID. Tens of millions of children are struggling to return to school this month, whether because they have been forced into child labor or early marriages.
Hundreds of millions more will return to already under-resourced schools that face potentially massive budget cuts in the coming years, with declines in GDP likely to reduce school budgets by at least US$210 billion. (1)
This coincides with a time when costs for education should be rising: for example, smaller class sizes, which we have argued for over many years as making good sense educationally, may become a requirement with social distancing post-COVID, but this means more teachers and more classrooms.
Sadly we are already seeing some of the costs for masks, sanitizers, thermometers and soap in schools being passed on to parents – which will inevitably lead to more children dropping out of school because parents, whose own income has declined, will not be able to pay.
A turning point for investments in education
The Call to Action offers a positive alternative – arguing that COVID must represent a turning point, showing how massive new investments can be made in public education around the world. The Global Partnership for Education (GPE) could play a pivotal role both now and in the coming years.
The GPE already has a well-established requirement that countries have to maintain or increase the share of their national budget allocated to education – towards or exceeding 20% - if they are to qualify for GPE financial support.
This should be closely scrutinized in the coming months to prevent countries from diverting resources away from education. Governments will think twice about cutting their own spending on education if the consequence could be losing a $10 million or $100 million grant from GPE.
While GPE has been ahead of the game on promoting increases in budget shares to education, it has not paid sufficient attention to the size of overall budgets and the crucial role of tax justice.
There have been consistent rumblings over many years on the GPE Board, calling for action on tax and now there is a key opportunity to address this in the next GPE strategy (2021-2025) which will be agreed in December. Too many countries supported by GPE have such a low tax to GDP ratio that even if they spend 20% of their budget on education, it is not enough.
GPE needs to use this as a turning point: to build its capacity to support strategic and informed discussions on expanding tax revenues at country level.