Photo: Alon Nuriel
Meshulam Nahari
Photo: Alon Nuriel
Photo: Yoav Galai
Yossi Beilin
Photo: Yoav Galai

Equality or capitulation?

Yossi Beilin, Meshulam Nahari debate funding of ultra-Orthodox schools

Meshulam Nahari Yossi Beilin 

Meshulam Nahari
The government approved Sunday my proposal to advance an amendment to the national education law that would obligate local authorities to play a part in funding schools defined as "recognized but unofficial" in an equal manner and in accordance with the schools' ability to meet the terms and rules set by the Education Ministry.


The school budget is made up of funds that are transferred directly from the Education Ministry and from a regular maintenance budget funded by the local authority.


Until the court ruling on the matter, local authorities took part in the ongoing maintenance (including cleaning services, electricity, water, etc.) of schools that are recognized but unofficial – including democratic, church, Arab, and ultra-Orthodox schools. The State viewed the latter as its long arm for providing the ultra-Orthodox community with education services, due to the community's unique attributes.


It is important to remember that the contribution of local authorities stems from tax collection, parking ticket payments, and municipal taxes which the authority collects equally from all residents. Therefore, it would be proper that all residents, and in this case their children too, will enjoy the funds collected by the authority.


The majority of the general public is unaware that during the cold Jerusalem winter, more than 20,000 students aged six to 14 studied in cold classrooms without heating, electricity, and cleaning services, under conditions that would be shameful even in third world countries. This situation led me to initiate the bill, which was already agreed upon in coalition agreements, in order to equalize as much as is possible the conditions at recognized institutes to official ones.


It is important to note that the schools we are talking about are indeed defined as "unofficial," yet they fully meet the "core program" set by the Education Ministry. They are supervised by the Ministry and their achievements in tests, including international ones, are at times better than those of the general education system.


The bill has the power to create equality between students in the official education system to those in the recognized system. However, there would still be preference given to students in the former system, which will enjoy full funding both from the Education Ministry and local authorities, compared to their counterparts from the "recognized but unofficial" world – who will continue to enjoy partial funding only.


As someone who comes from the education system as the principal of a technological high school and who served in professional posts in the Education Ministry, and as a person who holds the entire system dear, I view strengthening it as the top national mission.


For this reason I believe that advancing this bill and providing an equal opportunity for all students, alongside a boost in State resources earmarked for education, teachers, and the creation of a better school climate would lead to improvement in the system, enhanced competition, and ultimately the creation of better, higher quality education.


The writer is a minister in the Treasury and member of the Shas party


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Yossi Beilin
There are sectors and groups in Israel interested in educating their children in a different way than the one most of us educate our children. Most of them do so for religious or community reasons, and some in light of a preference for unique education approaches.


This is just fine in my view, as long as someone is willing to invest his own money in educating his children differently. This is particularly fine if we are talking about a system that does not ignore the State of Israel's existence and which meets the regulations of the "core studies" program that guarantees the Israeli common denominator despite the differences.


It is not fine if the general public is forced to pay for the unique desires of those parents.


What are we talking about actually? At special schools, which the government approved a special budget for on Sunday, children are taught differently than in regular schools. There are some schools where two teachers teach in the same class at the same time. For the most part, and I'm particularly talking about ultra-Orthodox schools, the number of students per classroom is much lower than the norm.


An extensive transportation system is in place in order to bring children from all over the place, because the schools are not regional. That is, those who study there do not live nearby. On the other hand, most regular schools do not enjoy a small number of children per classroom, two teachers per class, or rides for anyone who is interested.


The bill passed in the government is meant to fund any unique school regardless of the cost, based on a false principle of apparent-equality. The ultra-Orthodox say: Local authorities are funding regular schools, why shouldn't they fund us fully as well?


The answer should be that the funding of special schools should be based on the exact same criteria accepted at regular schools. That is, if the assistance is based on the number of students, this will be the case at the special school as well. In fact, the Orthodox are demanding for themselves, or their schools, in the name of the demand for equality, much greater funding than the rest. The difference between the contribution of the local authority based on accepted criteria and the high cost of the special school should be paid by the parents out of their own pockets or donations they acquire.


If, heaven forbid, the bill approved by the government is passed, the implication would be that local authorities would not be given even an extra dime but would have to pay, out of their shrinking coffers (that at times do not even allow for paying salaries of workers) the full funding of the special schools. Under this state of affairs, there is no doubt it would come at the expense of regular schools, which in the past six years saw irresponsible cutbacks.


It is difficult to think about an issue that is more central to Israel's future than education. Only a government that has lost its sense of direction a long time ago does not blush with embarrassment when it votes for such bill, which not only marks capitulation to the Orthodox, but also constitutes yet another harsh blow to the next generation's future.


By the way, I was not surprised by the way Labor party ministers voted. Ever since their active participation in the management of the Lebanon war, it is difficult to expect anything from them. And still, I managed to be surprised by the abstention of the education minister, Labor's Yuli Tamir. This is a mark of disgrace.


The writer is a Knesset member and chairman of the Meretz-Yahad party


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פרסום ראשון: 03.13.07, 17:30
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