Israeli Ministerial Committee: Let Parents Vote on Nationwide Textbook Plan

Proposal would replace purchase of books with annual 'borrowing' fee.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation is supporting a bill to let parents decide whether they want to implement a nationwide plan to reuse textbooks in school.

The committee announced Sunday its support for a bill requiring all schools to hold a vote among parents on a program that would supply children with required schoolbooks at the beginning of the year - and collect them again at year-end. The program would cost parents a yearly sum of NIS 280 for primary schools and NIS 320 for high schools.

According to the proposed bill, 60 percent of the parents in each school must support the plan in order for it to be implemented locally.

The plan would be administered by the Education Ministry, which has created a logistical unit to help schools implement the program, if it is approved. It has also allocated NIS 120 million for the project.

According to ministry data, parents of primary school children are required to pay a yearly sum of NIS 600-800 for schoolbooks. Parents of junior high and high school students pay between NIS 1,000 and NIS 1,200.

The high cost of schoolbooks was one of the issues addressed by the Trajtenberg Committee, which called on the government to "increase the supervision and regulation concerning schoolbook prices ... and create an enforcement unit in the Education Ministry that would supervise schoolbook prices in bookstores, while creating an effective model to price schoolbooks."

The Education Ministry has already established a program for borrowing schoolbooks, but to date it has not been particularly successful, with only 900 schools participating in the project.

Critics of the current arrangement say that schools have largely tended to ignore the program because it is too much of a hassle - the books arrive too long after the beginning of the school year and are usually worn out.

According to the Trajtenberg Committee, the schoolbook market is worth NIS 800 million a year. The Education Ministry does approve schoolbook prices, but does not effectively enforce the prices at bookstores, it says. Some 42 major publishers and 30 smaller publishing houses print 4,500 different schoolbooks approved by the ministry.

"The market is characterized by demand caused by parents who have no choice but to purchase the books required by the schools," the Trajtenberg Committee wrote, "with every household spending NIS 600-800 a year on schoolbooks."

According to ministry officials, a tender for purchasing books in a supervised manner failed because publishers had no interest in submitting offers, due to a projected decrease in profits. Following this failure, the ministry decided to expand the plan for borrowing schoolbooks.

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