Israel Education Ministry Approves Higher-cost Preschools for Rich

The maximum a parent pays is supposed to be 1,000 shekels, but ‘exceptions’ are being granted for up to 3,000

אילוסטרציה חינוך גן ילדים
Tomer Appelbaum

The Education Ministry has recently allowed preschools to request permission to charge up to 3,000 shekels ($848) in extra fees annually to finance enrichment plans, such as hiring another assistant or introducing new curriculum. These fees come on top of the 1,000 shekels the ministry already permits preschools to charge parents for enrichment programs.

According to sources familiar with the issue, these approvals began last year as part of an informal agreement between Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Education Ministry Director-General Shmuel Abuav for certain preschools in the Jerusalem area, but are now being granted throughout the country.

Moreover, the amount of extra fees parents pay throughout the educational system has doubled over the past seven years, from 2.3 billion shekels in 2009 to 4.6 billion shekels during the 2016-17 school years.

The statistics on parent payments were submitted to the High Court of Justice recently by attorney Haran Reichman of the Legal Clinic for Law and Educational Policy at the University of Haifa, during a hearing on several petitions. The 2.3 billion-shekel figure comes from a state comptroller’s report in 2011, while the 4.6 billion-shekel figure comes from a report by the Knesset Research and Information Center, which points out that during these seven years the education system grew by only 15 percent.

“The moves led by the Education Ministry haven’t reduced payments in the educational system but have increased them meteorically,” Reichman wrote, adding that these additional payments are concentrated in those schools “that attract pupils from [families] with means, who are buying their children an educational advantage in the framework of public education, while excluding those who can’t afford this.”

The submission to the High Court also revealed that a few weeks ago the Education Ministry began allowing public preschools to charge the extra 3,000 shekels. To receive this permit, the preschool must submit a request to an “exceptions committee” and explain what the funds are to be used for – an additional assistant, projects, trips and so on. As far as is known, to date several dozen preschools, primarily in Jerusalem, have applied for this permit and are expected to receive it.

During the last school year the Education Ministry allowed nonprofit associations, mostly those promoting democratic and anthroposophic education in Jerusalem, to charge parents extra. But while that permit had been issued for a single year, it was extended this year and made available to all preschools in the system.

According to a source familiar with the issue, “There are several preschools that have asked for this approval of exceptional payments and there’s nothing ‘unique’ about them. We’re talking about a dangerous widening of gaps” between wealthy and poor children. “It’s not certain that the Education Ministry is strong enough to limit the opening it has created with its own hands.”

The Education Ministry responded by saying it “forbids parent payments beyond the sums that appear in the table of parent payments that was approved by the [Knesset] Education Committee,” adding, “The decision on the sum of 3,000 shekels is part of a gradual regularization that the ministry is implementing with those preschools that were charging extra.”