Did Donald Trump shut down Michelle Obama’s ‘Let Girls Learn’ program?

A girl completes an exercise at a school in Cambodia (Global Partnership for Education)
A girl completes an exercise at a school in Cambodia (Global Partnership for Education)

Is the present administration administration ending a global education program for girls championed by former First Lady Michelle Obama?

Left-wing news website Shareblue in an article published on May 1 called the shutdown "part of Trump's pattern of attacking the previous administration's successes."

"In his latest spiteful act, Trump is ending the ‘Let Girls Learn’ program begun in 2015 by former First Lady Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama," the article states.

The program supports initiatives to help adolescent girls attain quality education in various developing countries across the globe. It relies on new and existing programs to achieve its goals, and it also enlists help of nonprofits, private companies and foreign governments to help girls finish their education.

Following the launch of the $250 million initiative in March 2015,  foreign governments pledged nearly $600 million for girls’ education around the world.

The United States implements the programs through various government agencies, including the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and others.

Earlier, CNN had reported that the Let Girls Learn initiative will no longer be maintained.

CNN quoted a letter by Peace Corps acting director Sheila Crowley to employees that said, "Moving forward, we will not continue to use the Let Girls Learn brand or maintain a stand-alone program."

So is the program coming to an end? Our look at the situation revealed conflicting reports. Because we’re not sure what’s happening to the program, we’re not issuing a rating on our Truth-O-Meter. But we did want readers to know our findings.

To a query about the program’s fate, USAID, which partners with the Peace Corps, directed us to a statement from State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert that suggested the program isn’t changing right now but might in the future:

"There have been no changes to the Let Girls Learn program," the statement said. "The administration supports policies and programs to empower adolescent girls, including efforts to educate them through the completion of secondary school. We are committed to empowering women and girls around the world and are continuing to examine the best ways to do so."

The Peace Corps did not respond to mails from PolitiFact.

Advocacy groups and nonprofits that work closely with the program had varying information on the matter.

Helena Minchew, program officer of International Women’s Health Coalition (IWHC), said as of now all current contracts under the program continue and Let Girls Learn will operate for the foreseeable future.

IWHC is an advocacy group that works with nonprofits like Save the Children that support young adolescents’ health and rights.

"The programs in Malawi and Tanzania have continued to get funds," Minchew said.

Other stakeholders said there is confusion about where the program stands, although some of them have yet to see new commitments by way of funds under the program.

Jennifer Rigg, executive director of Global Campaign for Education-US (GCE-US), said her group has not heard from NGO partners about any changes. Her program is a coalition of international nonprofits, think tanks and community organizations that work on quality education for all.

"We haven’t seen any new commitments, partners, or projects of Let Girls Learn announced since the start of the current administration," Rigg said.

The administration has clarified that there is no change to the program, but those working with it fear that budget cuts will end up impacting it.

Rigg said that most of the projects under the Let Girls Learn program have been implemented by agencies that the administration has targeted for deep cuts in the 2018 budget proposal, such as the State Department, USAID and the Peace Corps.

"So even if the administration is not actually planning to stop using the Let Girls Learn name, the proposed budget cuts will have a likely negative impact on projects which focus on girls’ education," she said.

As of now, it seems the program continues. But the State Department’s carefully worded response and fears of some advocacy groups about budget cuts likely means the fate of the program is up in the air.