The Israel Teachers Union, whose members include preschool teachers at public nursery schools, is threatening to strike public preschool classes for three- and four-year olds some time after this week's Simhat Torah holiday, over the union's demand that the state fund a second classroom aide for each preschool class.

The union is expected to make an assessment of the situation based on the response it gets from the Education Ministry and the local authorities. It declared a formal work dispute last month following the government's implementation at the beginning of the fall school year of a plan for free preschool attendance for 3- and 4-year-olds. With the jump in enrollment resulting from the new free nursery education policy, the union is demanding that the state fund the additional classroom aides. The union says some of the children in the classrooms are actually under three and not potty-trained, posing an additional demand on classroom staff.

"A clearly impossible situation has been created, in addition to the fact that the preschools do not have the basic conditions to diaper and clean children who soil their diapers," union head Yossi Wasserman stated in a letter last month to the local authorities, which are responsible for hiring classroom aides. Up to now, however, very few local governments have allocated funds for an additional aide in each classroom, and when they have, it has generally been on a short-term basis until children have become acclimated to the classroom.

Currently there can be up to 35 children in preschool classes for 3- and 4-year-olds, staffed by one teacher and one aide. The union's demand for funding for an additional aide came even before the school year began. The union threatened to strike the preschools on September 23, but then deferred action until after the holidays.