Paying for success in education: Comparing opportunities in the United States and globally

    This is about governments using data for performance rather than compliance” was a resounding message coming out of the U.S. Department of Education’s conference on June 10 on the use of Pay for Success contracts in education. These contracts, known globally as social impact bonds, continue to be at the forefront of global conversations about results-based financing mechanisms, and have garnered significant momentum this week with passage of the Social Impact Partnerships for Pay for Results Act in the U.S. While limitations certainly exist, their potential to revolutionize the way we fund social projects is tremendous.

    A social impact bond (SIB) is a set of contracts where a government agency agrees to pay for service outputs or outcomes, rather than funding defined service inputs, and an investor provides upfront risk capital to the service provider. The investor is potentially repaid principal and interest contingent on the achievement of the predetermined outputs or outcomes.

    In our research on impact bonds at the Center for Universal Education, we have analyzed the use of SIBs for education in the U.S., other high-income countries, and low- and middle-income countries. Practitioners in each of these contexts are having far more similar conversations than they may realize—all are united in their emphasis on using SIBs to build data systems for performance. There is tremendous potential for lessons learned across these experiences and across the broader discussions of results-based financing mechanisms for education globally.

    Current SIBs for education globally

    There are currently five SIBs for education worldwide: two in the U.S. for preschool education, one in Portugal for computer science classes in primary school, and one each in Canada and Israel for higher education. In addition, a number of countries have used the SIB model to finance interventions to promote both education and employment outcomes for teens—there are 21 such SIBs in the U.K., three in the Netherlands, and one in Germany. There is also a Development Impact Bond (DIB), where a donor rather than government agency serves as the outcome funder, for girls’ education in India. The Center for Universal Education will host a webinar to present the enrollment and learning outcomes of the first year of the DIB on July 5 (register to join here).

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