Insufficient resources and inadequate public expenditure management often prevent governments in low-income countries from providing quality basic education free of charge. User payments by parents are an alternative means of financing basic education. This paper assesses how user payments affect educational opportunities and quality of education for children of poor families in low-income countries. Conditions are identified under which user payments can or cannot improve educational outcomes. User payments, whether taking the form of compulsory benefit taxation or voluntary user fees, are a temporary solution and second-best compared with free-access, publicly financed quality education that is consistent with macroeconomic stability.
The impact of public education expenditure on human capital, the supply of different labor skills, and its macroeconomic and distributional consequences is appraised within a multisector CGE model. The model is applied to and calibrated for two Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs), Tanzania and Zambia. The simulation results suggest that education expenditure can raise economic growth. However, to maximize benefits from education expenditure, a sufficiently high level of physical investment is needed, as are measures that improve the match between the pattern of educational output and the structure of effective demand for labor. An important result of the simulation experiments is that a well-targeted pattern of education expenditure can be effective for poverty alleviation.