Suppose, just suppose, there were a way to make all the ultra-Orthodox schools register their pupils via the municipality as a condition for receiving financing. That would probably make it much more difficult, if not impossible, for them to continue their discriminatory ethnic registration quotas. If the ultra-Orthodox institutions tried to continue these discriminatory practices, the municipalities would have all the information needed to expose them and the police would have all the information required to indict the criminals. It turns out that there is a way to stop the discrimination.
Much has been said about the great risk to the state education system posed by the Nahari Law, which obliges local authorities to finance recognized but unofficial educational institutions, even at the expense of the state schools. But yesterday, Haaretz revealed that the Nahari Law cannot yet be implemented. Its implementation requires the education minister to publish, for the first time, regulations for financing the recognized but unofficial institutions. It is hard to overestimate the importance of such regulations and of the many opportunities they provide the education system.
A minimum of 250 pupils is required to establish a state secular or religious school, but only 11 are needed to set up a private school. This inexplicably favors private education. It seems that Tamir's most important step should be to raise that private school benchmark to a reasonable level. Any benchmark lower than 150 pupils would be a fatal error. A threshold of 150 could stop the disintegration of the state and state-religious schools.
Anyone who wants to establish a private school - democratic, religious, Hasidic, anthroposophic or any other - should finance it himself until he has 150 pupils. Shas, by the way, has a clear interest in this regulation. If no new Sephardi ultra-Orthodox schools are opened, children from this community would flow to Shas's schools.
Tamir could also stipulate that recognized unofficial schools with better-off pupils should receive less funding. On the other hand, schools should get a larger budget if they accept immigrant children, especially of Ethiopian origin, disabled children or children requiring special education. Thus an elitist school that wished to increase its budget would have to make a contribution to integration.
The regulations could also say that a school that does not prove that it has paid all its workers' social benefits will not be financed. This condition could rescue many hundreds of families of ultra-Orthodox teachers, whose employers cut costs at the expense of teachers' pensions and national insurance allocations. The regulations could reward schools that bolster subjects like civics, tolerance, road safety or family planning.
The education minister would be well-advised to prepare the regulations as openly as possible, to publish the draft regulations to enable the public to express its opinions, and to hold as many public debates as possible - with the Knesset Education Committee, local government officials, education professionals and academics. Such regulations could reform the education system and give the state-secular and state-religious schools the advantage they deserve.
If, however, the regulations retain the present structure, they will plunge state-secular and state-religious education deeper into the swamp in which they have been mired for years. This is Yuli Tamir's big test. Will she pass?
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