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The methods used in calculating the budgets of the country's elementary schools are set to change in September to conform to a High Court of Justice ruling from last year, which is aimed at helping disadvantaged students and reducing inequality.

Under the new plan, which is being drafted by Education Ministry officials, the use of "national priority areas" in determining elementary school budgets will be scrapped in favor of ensuring an adequate basic funding level with additions for underserved populations.

Among other things, the changes will reduce funding for schools on settlements in the territories, which are currently considered national priority areas, and increase funding for schools in Arab communities.

"The new budget formula will change the political-education map from A to Z," a senior ministry officials said, "and transfer money to the most disadvantaged communities, most of which are Arab." The total annual budget for classroom hours in the elementary school system is estimated at about NIS 4.5 billion.

In response to a petition submitted by Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, the High Court ruled a year ago that the use of national priority areas in determining education budgets discriminated against the country's Arab sector. While 500 Jewish communities were awarded priority status, only four Arab communities enjoyed this special status. The court set the end of March this year as the starting date for the new policy.

For the past four years, elementary school curriculum hours have been budgeted according to the "Shoshani Index," named after the commission on whose recommendations it was based. The index sets a differential standard for each student, using criteria such as the family's country of origin and date of immigration to Israel (when applicable) and the community's status as a national priority location. Each student is classified according to the socioeconomic decile of his or her family, with each decile receiving a different number of classroom hours. The overall number of curriculum hours for each school is the sum of the classroom time allocated for its students.

In wake of the High Court ruling, the ministry's Chief Scientist, Prof. Sidney Strauss, framed a new allocation method. The "Strauss Index," which is being introduced here for the first time, consists of four elements: the parents' education level; the family's annual net income; the country of origin of the child and of the parents; and whether the child lives in the geographic periphery of the country.

Last week the state asked the court to postpone implementation of the new index until September 1 of this year, while noting that the criteria had been approved in principal by the education minister and the ministry director general and affirming that they are the "most accurate predictors of learning success or lack of success."

The changes to the index are far-reaching: the weight given to the education level of the parents is greater, the component of immigration is replaced by the notion of country of origin for the student and parents and information about the family's income is expected to give a more accurate picture of socioeconomic background.

Another important change is that while currently the Shoshani Index is the main basis for determining each school's budget, under the new system each school will be allocated a basic budget according to its enrollment figures, without reference to its students' background, in order to ensure that each child received about 31 weekly tuition hours. The remainder of the budget will be allocated according to the new index to provide more hours to underserved populations.

"Most of the resources that will be distributed in this second stage will go to the less advantaged schools, including many in the non-Jewish sector," the state wrote in its postponement request.

The Education Ministry wants to introduce the Strauss Index gradually, over a five-year period, beginning with the next school year.

"You can't make a revolution in six months," a ministry official said. "At the end of the process, a lot of money will be directed toward schools with students from families with low education and income levels, mainly in the Arab sector."