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Budget deficits, spending limits, the sequester and economic headwinds all seem to fall by the wayside for Barack Obama’s overseas spending program.

Now that a $305 million U.S. initiative has built and renovated hundreds of Pakistani schools – including private Islamic madrassas in addition to public institutions – the Obama administration is set to  infuse $25 million to improve student reading skills in those schools.

Using congressionally authorized FY 2010-FY 2012 funds, a pair of U.S. Agency for International Development initiatives will embark upon the literacy phase of the massive educational project, according to a solicitation that WND located via routine database research.

The Sindh Basic Education Program, or SBEP, and the Southern Punjab Basic Education Program or SPBEP, ultimately could cost U.S. taxpayers $115 million and $190 million, respectively.

Punjab has experienced a tripling in the number of Islamic militants preparing for an ethnic civil war across the border in Afghanistan, AP reported Saturday.

Citing military analysts, a Pakistani think-tank and a Sunni Muslim militant leader, the report claimed thousands of fighters have descended upon the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region in anticipation of foreign-troop withdrawals in 16 months.

The USAID education programs initially focused on fixing and constructing schools damaged or destroyed by flooding in 2010. Reform of the Pakistan Department of Education – which the U.S. is helping to consolidate smaller schools into fewer, but larger, facilities – remains a corollary program objective.

The agency slated millions of the total budget toward the purchase of student textbooks and yet millions more to hire contractors to monitor and evaluate the separate Sindh and Punjab regional endeavors.

The newly launched Sindh Reading Program, a sub-component of SBEP, will take place in the city of Karachi and elsewhere in the Sindh Province.

USAID, in another endeavor, will arrange to make it easier for Punjab business owners and other organizations to open private schools in the region, with the financial burden likewise falling on U.S. taxpayers.

Though the agency did not disclose an estimated cost, it is searching for a contractor to carry out a two-day Pakistani education conference late September in the Punjab city of Lahore.

It will take about a month to arrange the 150-person event and another month to prepare follow-up materials for government officials and conference participants.

The forum’s long-term goal is to create a Private School Forum group “not only to support research, but also to provide business and technical services to entrepreneurs of low-fee private primary schools,” according to the project’s Statement of Work.

In other global USAID education-specific endeavors, the agency is paying an additional $263,000 to a contractor to expand a college scholarship initiative for Indonesian citizens. The contract extension only covers two more master’s degree programs.

USAID in 2012 awarded a $19.7 million contract to the Indonesian International Education Foundation, or IIEF, which currently is carrying out Phase Two of the Program to Extend Scholarships & Training to Achieve Sustainable Impacts in Indonesia, or PRESTASI-II.

PRESTASI-II benefited Islamic schools operated by the Ministry of Religious Affairs as well as public schools of the Ministry of National Education.

The Indonesians asked for more. USAID readily agreed.

“USAID/Indonesia has been requested by the [Indonesia] Coordinating Ministry for People’s Welfare to pay for and manage two master’s degree scholarships under the IIEF contract,” the agency says in a Justification & Approval document governing the sole-source, no-bid contract.

“USAID/Indonesia concurs with this request and will send and manage the scholarships under the IIEF contract.”

PRESTASI-II is just one contract vehicle for the administration’s $90 million portfolio of Indonesian education-aid programs.

The endeavor also is a continuation of the original PRESTASI initiative, which USAID launched during the Bush administration.

Under Bush, the U.S. government’s Indonesian education-aid portfolio included a six-year, $157 million program, which the agency at the time described as “one of the largest, if not the largest, USAID education program in the world.”

Separately, USAID this past summer awarded a $25.5 million task order to a Washington, D.C., consulting firm to extend a School Dropout-Prevention program in the Mideast and Asia.

Among other ventures, USAID also is working with the government of Egypt on a project to help Egyptian citizens get more out of their college educations, as WND recently reported.

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