Eli Yishai and Benjamin Netanyahu
Eli Yishai and Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset. Photo by Emil Salman
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Israel’s cabinet approved a plan to fund free education for children over the age of three on Sunday, after approving a wide range of governmental budget cuts.

The vote, which was supported by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, passed only after the religious Shas party, who originally opposed the cuts, was convinced that the cuts would not affect local authorities or projects to rehabilitate neighborhoods.

Shas leader and Interior Minister Eli Yishai said the law was “necessary and welcomed, as long as it does not affect the weaker layers of Israeli society.”

Despite, their approval, some within Netanyahu’s Likud party were opposed to the cuts. Vice Prime Minister and Minister for Regional Development Silvan Shalom said the implementation of budget cuts would achieve the opposite of last year’s Trajtenberg report recommendation, and would likely cut funding for his office by NIS 30,000.

Free preschool education for three and four year-olds was one of the most important recommendations of the Trajtenberg committee on socioeconomic reform.

The original law for free preschool education was passed by the Knesset in 1984, but its implementation has been postponed annually by means of the Economic Arrangements Law since the Finance Ministry objected, arguing that the cost is too high and there is no budget for such an undertaking.

The cost is estimated at NIS 7.2 billion over the next five years, including NIS 2.2 billion in 2012. The program will cost NIS 1.8 billion annually starting in 2017 after the initial investment is made.

Senior treasury officials say that without a cut in the defense budget, as the Trajtenberg committee has recommended, it will be impossible to realize this educational reform.

The Trajtenberg panel recommended a NIS-3 billion cut in the defense budget every year, between 2012 and 2016. The total cost of all the recommendations suggested by the committee in the area of education is NIS 22.35 billion.

Two flagship, and expensive, programs recommended by the Trajtenberg committee were the free preschool education plan, and the long school-day program for children aged 3-9 - lasting until 4 P.M., Sunday through Thursday.

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