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The school dropout rate rose between 2007 and 2008, after having declined in every previous year since the start of the decade, the National Council for the Welfare of the Child said yesterday.

The council said that some 19,200 children - almost a quarter of them new immigrants - dropped out of the Jewish school system between the year that ended in June 2007 and the one that ended in June 2008. Among 11th-graders, the dropout rate increased by a full percentage point, from 5.3 to 6.3 percent, and other grades also saw a rise in the number of dropouts.

Sources in the Education Ministry said the figure for Arab schools was between 5,000 and 7,000 dropouts.

A senior ministry official blamed the increase on years of budget cuts that have forced it to reduce its dropout prevention efforts. For instance, he said, the ministry's budget for "educational welfare" has been slashed from NIS 55 million to NIS 15 million.

The council's figures are part of a soon-to-be-published report on the dropout rate among immigrant children. They are based on data collected by the Central Bureau of Statistics, which checks the dropout rate at the start of every school year.

According to the council, the dropout problem is significantly worse among immigrants. For instance, 5.9 percent of immigrant 10th-graders dropped out in the year ending in June 2008, compared to only 3.7 percent of all Jewish 10th-graders, it said. In 11th grade, the respective figures were 7.8 percent and 6.3 percent.