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Budgets and education financing

Publication: Reading the Books. Governments' Budgets and the Right to Education

©Jack Picone/ActionAid
©Jack Picone/ActionAid

Everyone agrees that education is a priority. However, prioritising education in public expenditure is a different issue. Governments face many challenges in allocating their budgets and, while they may claim to support education, they do not always ‘put their money where their mouth is’.

By analysing financing issues we can gain insight into government priorities and the factors that influence spending, and at the same time collect information which can be useful for our campaigning and influencing work. Understanding the relationships between local, national and international level is key to work in this area. What is spent on education locally is determined by national policy, which in turn is influenced by international policy agendas. By enabling people to explore issues of education funding, various opportunities are created to contextualise the local situation within the wider picture, and develop mechanisms for local people to engage in the big questions of national economic policy.

Education financing and human rights

Article 2 of the International Covenant On Economic, Social and Cultural Rights states: Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to take steps, individually and through international assistance and co-operation,  especially economic and technical, to the maximum of its available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the full realisation of the rights, implying not only that states must prioritise resources for the right to education, but also that the international community must support national governments to do this. There are a number of national constitutions that protect minimum resource allocations for economic, social and cultural rights, such as those of  Brazil, Costa Rica and the Philippines.These 'have been used to challenge budgetary allocations for education, in the courts through public interest litigation and on the streets through direct action to demand compliance with constitutional obligations.

In addition to the obligations placed on governments by the ICESCR there are two other reference points to consider in financing education. The first is a UNESCO 1996 report, Learning: The Treasure Within (Delors et al.), which suggested that governments should invest at least 6% of GNP in education. This is now widely used as a reference point for minimum levels of investment in education. The second is the Fast Track Initiative, which recommends that countries should spend 20% of their national budget on education.

This legislation and recommendations can be powerfully used to campaign for appropriate resourcing to education, to ensure that everyone is able to secure their right to education. And if such legislation exists already at the national level it is important to draw on this in any of your budget analysis work, tracking whether or not the legislation is being respected and implemented. However, in using this information it is important to consider what the available resources are, what the constraints to government expenditure might be, where and who should be targeted to ensure appropriate spending on public education. This could include the general public and local and national governments, as well as the international development community.

See the following pages:

Understanding budgets

Working at the local level

Linking national and local level work

Work at the national level

Understanding international constraints on the national budget