Needed: Bias in favor of state schools
Israel’s governments have contributed to ultra-Orthodox education for too many years. As a result the Haredi education system has thrived and the ultra-Orthodox community’s seclusion and separatism have intensified.
The draft of the Economic Arrangements Law includes projected cutbacks in the funds earmarked for ultra-Orthodox yeshivas that do not prepare their students for matriculation exams or teach the core curriculum. It is to be hoped these clauses do not disappear or undergo modification by the time they are submitted for the Knesset’s approval.
This hope is shared by all those concerned for Israel’s economic future, which requires a far greater integration of the Haredi community in the workforce. It is also shared by those wishing to ensure basic civil rights, such as education, to a large part of the population currently doomed to live on the fringes of the modern state.
The public debate about the core curriculum has been going on for 15 years. The most conspicuous characteristic of several governments regarding this issue, throughout this long period, has been their inertia in implementing the laws they themselves enacted or the High Court of Justice’s rulings on this matter.
The legislation clauses on the core curriculum condition public funding for ultra-Orthodox schools on their teaching of the core curriculum and participation in the annual Meitzav exams (which are indicators of school efficiency and progress).
This basic principle has never been fully put into practice. The ultra-Orthodox community’s representatives, as well as senior Education Ministry officials through the generations, have been busy inventing ways to bypass or evade this requirement. Very few inspectors were employed, the supervision reports showed unrealistic figures, and the sanctions against schools that flouted the regulations were never carried out.
The ultra-Orthodox parties’ political power prevented change. Now, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Education Minister Shay Piron and Finance Minister Yair Lapid can finally change this intolerable situation.
The government’s plan calls for reducing public funding to unsupervised ultra-Orthodox educational institutions that don’t teach the core curriculum. Currently these institutions receive 55 percent of the funds allocated to state schools of a similar size.
No less important, the state will stop treating the Sephardi and Ashkenazi Haredi education systems preferentially. These ultra-Orthodox schools currently receive full state funding, although they are far from being official state schools.
Slashing their budget by 25 percent will put them on a par with other schools that are not part of the state education system, but are supervised by the Education Ministry and are partly or wholly funded by the state.
Israel’s governments have contributed to ultra-Orthodox education for too many years. As a result the Haredi education system has thrived and the ultra-Orthodox community’s seclusion and separatism have intensified. The government would do well to grant the official state education system preferential treatment.