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Education Minister Yuli Tamir announced Sunday that the Education Ministry wants local authorities to voluntarily finance "recognized unofficial" ultra-Orthodox schools, in order to thwart a bill to require the authorities to fund non-state schools.

If passed, the bill proposed by MK Meshulam Nahari of Shas would require all local authorities to fund the recognized unofficial schools, many of which are ultra-Orthodox, as they fund state-schools.

In a cabinet debate of the bill Sunday, Tamir said that passing Shas' bill would "pave the road for funding Hamas and Islamic Movement institutions."

In response to Tamir's comment, Nahari said that "Minister Tamir has effective tools to deny licenses to schools."

The government on Sunday decided that Nahari would distribute the draft bill to all government offices, and in three weeks, the bill will be brought for the approval of the cabinet or the Ministerial Committee on Legislation.

In the coming weeks, the Education Ministry will try to advance Tamir's alternative proposal, according to which financial support for the schools will be voluntary and at the discretion of mayors and local authorities.

The ministry will look into the possibility of counseling local authorities that wish to support recognized unofficial schools according to certain standards, which the ministry has already formulated.

At the cabinet meeting, Shas Chairman Eli Yishai demanded the government "adhere to the precise wording of the coalition agreement," and said "the ultra-Orthodox students are not second-class, and we can't have them be discriminated against."

Nahari hailed the bill as "important for the principle of equality that applies to all students in the education system."

According to Tamir, "Nahari is trying to create a new reality that would change the status quo in the ultra-Orthodox's favor, while we are trying to solve the problem without new legislation."

Nahari claims that Tamir's proposal will bring about "the complete politicization of the education system's budget," as it would give all local authorities the freedom to decide whether to fund schools.

Education Ministry data shows the cost of implementing Nahari's bill would be between NIS 215 million and NIS 240 million.

"No one disagrees with the fact that this is very expensive and that the local authorities will not be able to afford it unless they receive larger budgets," Tamir said. "In addition, no one denies that the budgets that would be transferred under this bill might be taken from the official education system."

Tamir noted that the bill would mean annulling the preference for the official school system, thus delivering the national and mainstream national-religious systems a "fatal blow."

She wrote the cabinet's decision on the bill was "actually a decision on the future, because over the long term, the approval of the bill could lead to privatizing Israel's education system."

Some of the authorities, especially the financially stronger ones, give their education systems more than the minimum 25%. "If the Nahari bill passes, the local authorities will be given a larger budgetary burden but no specific financing sources," Tamir's statement said.

'An embarrassing capitulation'
Yossi Beilin, head of the Meretz faction in the Knesset, said on Sunday that if the government approved Naheri's bill it would represent an 'embarrassing surrender' to the Haredi sector, and would deal a mortal blow to the education system.