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Education Minister Yuli Tamir is working on a plan to make every child in Israel entitled to 12 years of school, even after age 18. To date, the state has recognized the right of every child to 12 consecutive school years, from first through twelfth grade.

Under Tamir's innovation, if pupils dropped out of a regular school, or attended an ultra-Orthodox institution that teaches a partial core curriculum, they would be able to complete their studies by age 30, according to a draft of the ministry's response to a court petition against it on the core curriculum and budgeting for Haredi education.

A couple of months ago, the Israel Religious Action Center petitioned the High Court of Justice against the Education Ministry, demanding that it implement an earlier Supreme Court verdict ordering a stop to state financing for Haredi schools that do not teach core subjects. A High Court ruling from late 2004 on a petition by the Secondary Schools Teachers Association - which has now also petitioned the court in the matter - gave the ministry an extension to introduce the requisite changes gradually. That extension runs out next month.

Tamir's plan tries to find a balance between ultra-Orthodox objections to students at secondary school institutions known as "small yeshivas" studying state-assigned content and the wish to enable those pupils - and anyone else who did not finish 12 years of schooling - to get a complete education through the public school system.

Some 24,000 teenagers attend the small yeshivas.

"This is a model that bridges two contrary mindsets," said a senior Education Ministry official. "The right of Haredi parents to choose their children's education, on the one hand, and the right of every child to receive an education and training, on the other."

The official said the ministry has already begun looking into options for running and funding the "second chance program," including talks with the Finance Ministry. Preliminary estimates put the cost of the program at between NIS 10 million and NIS 15 million for the first year, and it would probably operate through the ministry's Centers for Adult Education.

Under the heading, "The right to educate and the right to be educated," the ministry's draft response, obtained by Haaretz, states: "Recognition of the parental right to send their children to private and specialized education frameworks effectuates values of the utmost importance. It respects the rights of minority groups to maintain unique frameworks within a multicultural society."

However, while parents have the right to preserve their way of life and educate their children within the framework of the community they live in, "there is the right of every child to an education that prepares him for an active and productive adult life."

The ministry's plan seeks to offer a compromise solution, which they concede will not satisfy the petitioners, but constitutes "a reasonable middle ground."