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The Education Ministry's budget for special assistance to students from low socioeconomic backgrounds severely discriminates against Arabs, a new study shows. The average per-student allocation in Arab junior high schools amounts to only 20 percent of the average in Jewish junior highs.

The study, published recently in the journal Megamot by Prof. Sorel Cahan of Hebrew University's School of Education, supports the claims of institutionalized budgetary discrimination that Arab educators have long voiced. On Monday, when the ministry published town-by-town data on what percentage of high school students pass their matriculation exams, most Arab towns were once again at the bottom of the list. A rare exception was Fureidis, where 75.86 percent of students passed - the third highest rate in Israel.

Ordinary classroom hours are allotted to schools on a strictly per-student basis. But the special assistance budget, which totaled NIS 150 million last year, is by nature differential, as its purpose is to give extra assistance to schools with a large proportion of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. The money goes toward tutoring, enrichment activities and more.

The special assistance budget is allocated in two stages. First, it is divided between the Jewish and Arab populations based on the number of students in each. Then, it is distributed among schools in each sector based on an index with three components: the percentage of students per school from low-income families, the percentage from large families, and the percentage whose fathers have relatively little schooling.

However, Cahan found, because the Arab sector has more students who meet these criteria but less students overall, "educationally needy" Jewish students receive anywhere from 3.8 to 6.9 times as much funding as equally needy Arab students.

This discrimination defeats the whole point of the special assistance budget, he wrote.

New, uniform index

The Education Ministry said in response that it had already decided to abandon this allocation method.

As of the coming school year, it will start allocating the special assistance budget to all schools on the basis of a new, uniform index, rather than first divvying the money up among Jewish and Arab schools on a per-student basis.

However, it added, "to enable schools to prepare for the change" - which Cahan said would significantly reduce funding Jewish schools are used to getting - "the new system will be implemented gradually over several years."