After all the declarations about a revolution in education and budgetary increments, the new school year will be harder and poorer than ever. Those who don't believe it can take a look at the budget, not the promises scattered by the education minister. The difference shows that we are being cheated.
About a month ago we were told of a "historic agreement" that was to save the higher education system, and add to it no less than NIS 2.5 billion. A look at the budgetary data shows that there has actually been a cut. The higher education system will receive NIS 500 million, which restores part of a cut of NIS 850 million. That is, the higher education system budget will be cut by "only" NIS 350 million a year. Because the number of students is growing, the budget per student is declining. The happy declaration that the higher education system was about to be saved was, therefore, premature.
Israel invests in its students far less than any other Western country. The result is the continuous erosion of the ability of the students to compete, the breakdown of research, a steadily increasing brain drain and the continuing weakening of the higher education system.
Ostensibly, one could take comfort in the considerable increase given to the education system to implement the Dovrat Committee report - NIS 1.7 billion. But this is also a virtual increment. Over a third of the increase, some NIS 700 million, has still been neither approved nor budgeted for. This sum of NIS 700 million is a bad check.
One could find comfort in the billion shekels added to the education system, but this sum, which was divided into two equal parts, will not be given at the beginning of the school year but rather at the end. Half, to be released only after April 2005, is mainly earmarked for compensation payment for teachers; its transfer depends on negotiations with the teachers unions. This move is in keeping with Benjamin Netanyahu's economic policy, which is mainly to shrink the public sector, but its contribution to education is minimal.
The rest of the money, if and when it is transferred, will go to infrastructure. There is no chance that it will serve to build the infrastructure for the long school day, because the education ministry is already NIS 450 million in the red for essential safety renovations. This is not a budget for the construction of libraries, labs, or gymnasiums, but to shore up ceilings, insulate wiring, and fix dangerous playground equipment. After all these essential repairs, 2,468 classrooms and 2,767 kindergartens will still be missing. This is a serious and dangerous case of under-budgeting, not increments.
That leaves us with NIS 500 million, which is also earmarked for one-time expenditures, mainly to fund teacher retirement. That means that the main increase in the education budget is in reducing the size of teaching staff. Next year there will be less teachers. Some will be working more hours and will be compensated accordingly, but most will continue to earn little and work much.
Netanyahu has won. Of the good proposals the Dovrat Committee made, only two will be implemented next year: the dismissal of teachers and shortening the school week. Instead of the implementation of the recommendations, we will be getting more crowded classrooms, the average size of which is 36 children, and Fridays with no educational content. The reason is simple. No one has budgeted the Friday activities, and there is no chance that the crumbling municipalities, greatly motivated but under-funded youth movements, or depleted community centers will step into the breach.
At a time when headlines trumpet an education revolution, in reality the education system is falling apart, teachers are tired, students are hungry, classrooms are crowded, parents are paying and educational gaps are widening. Without a real change in budget, the education crisis, too, will continue to grow. Don't say we didn't warn you.
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