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Education Minister Yuli Tamir wants the High Court of Justice to approve a one-year postponement on a ruling that stops the ministry from funding ultra-Orthodox schools that do not teach core-curriculum subjects. Tamir faces opposition from Haredi school administrators, as well as politicians from Shas and United Torah Judaism.

In December 2004 the Supreme Court ruled that Haredi schools that do not teach the core curriculum could not continue to be publicly funded. The ruling was supposed to take effect from the start of the current school year.

A few days earlier, Tamir announced a proposal to exempt "small yeshivas" of 24,000 pupils from the core-curriculum obligation for two years. During this time they would change their status from "recognized unofficial education," which entitles them to 75 percent funding, to "exempt," which gives them 55 percent funding.

Tamir also proposed making every child in Israel eligible for 12 years of school, even after age 18. That would enable a pupil who has dropped out of the regular school system, or who has attended a Haredi institution that teaches the core curriculum only partially, to complete his studies by age 30.

Tamir's plan was intended to provide a response to a petition filed several months ago by the Israel Religious Action Center and Secondary School Teachers Association, seeking to compel the Education Ministry to implement the previous court ruling. Under an interim ruling on that petition, the "small yeshivas" will be funded at a rate of 55 percent until January 1.

In the state's latest reply, submitted about a week ago, Tamir wrote: "After talks between the leadership of the Haredi public and myself ... I decided with a heavy heart to accede to the request by the leadership of the Haredi public and postpone the plan's implementation."

Tamir goes on to ask the court to approve her request to maintain the small yeshivas' status of unofficial recognized institutions until the end of this school year, with their commensurate funding.

Shas and UTJ applied to join as respondents to the petition now before the court. In their application, Minister Eli Yishai and MKs Yaakov Litzman and Moshe Gafni argued that it is unfair to reduce government support for small yeshivas at midyear. Advance warning is called for when changing a policy that has been in place for 60 years, they insisted to the court.

Lawyers for the petitioners countered that Tamir is proposing that an unlawful situation be sanctioned by the High Court.