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The Education Ministry is slashing its subsidies for busing students to ultra-Orthodox schools in the "independent education" system. The ministry explained its plan for the next school year in response to a petition to the High Court of Justice by the Israel Religious Action Center. IRAC, the legal advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel asked the ministry to apply the same criteria to the ultra-Orthodox schools that it uses for state schools.

The ministry response, submitted May 29, states that calculations based on enrollment in the past two years indicates that the number of students entitled to busing will drop from almost 16,000 to about 4,500 with the new calculations. This will cut costs to the state from NIS 27.8 million to NIS 7.2 million.

Busing subsidies are paid to schools or school networks to help pay the cost of transporting children to the nearest available appropriate school, if it is too far for them to walk. The distance is calculated by a computer program.

The ministry wrote in its response that the central question is the definition of the "nearest available appropriate school" for which a child is eligible for a busing subsidy.

"The ministry has taken upon itself to ascertain that the institution is appropriate in certain aspects, such as boys being sent to an educational institution for boys and girls being sent to institutions solely for girls." However, the heads of independent education have asked for recognition of a variety of sub-categories, "which the ministry cannot accept."

"We are pleased that after years of waste and discrimination against most Israeli schoolchildren the Education Ministry has decided to make its busing policy egalitarian," IRAC attorney Yonit Shlain-Ben Or said. "We hope the ministry will fulfill its commitment and save the state millions of shekels."

MK Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) said, "We cannot accept the ministry's response to the High Court and will fight to get the entire sum."

He added, "We have discovered many errors in the computer system that determines entitlement to bus subsidies. Unfortunately, the Education Ministry is not set up to properly handle busing for ultra-Orthodox education."