Education Ministry Set for Additional $195 Million Cuts to Help Fund Gaza War

Ministry will take biggest hit of all departments given the large size of its budget, with students in poorer areas of the country likely to suffer most.

Tomer Appelbaum

The Education Ministry is set to suffer a 695 million shekel ($195 million) cut in its 2014 budget, as the government looks to fund the military cost of this summer’s fighting in Gaza with a 2% cut for all ministries other than Defense. The cuts are expected to affect funding of regular public education and higher education.

The Education Ministry will suffer the largest cut in actual shekel terms of any ministry due to the large size of its budget. It is also among the largest education spending cuts in the past decade.

The regular education budget – which funds elementary and secondary schools – is expected to suffer a cut of some 517 million shekels this year, the result of a proposal the cabinet looks set to approve today [see additional coverage above]. The higher education budget is slated for about 176 million shekels in reductions.

The cuts at the Education Ministry, and other ministries, are expected to have a longer-term effect because the lower spending limits will then provide the basis for any budget increases in subsequent years. The across-the-board cuts do not apply to budget lines related directly to funding salaries.

The slated cuts come on top of earlier cuts this year and last of some 1.8 billion shekels in government education spending – including about a billion shekels this year alone. They were instituted as part of an austerity plan implemented by the Finance Ministry last year.

Following the outbreak of the social justice protests in Israel during the summer of 2011, a public panel headed by economist Manuel Trajtenberg recommended substantial increases in education spending. The budget reductions instituted last year were taken in part from sums allocated on the recommendation of the committee.

It appears that the latest round of spending cuts may have a disproportionate impact on students in poorer areas of the country and in outlying regions.

Education Ministry officials have yet to decide exactly how to accomplish the savings if the cuts are approved, but, in anticipation, officials have been meeting on the issue over the past several weeks.

Although Israel’s fiscal year is the same as the calendar year – running from January through December – the school year begins in September and runs through the following June. Therefore, the ministry has already used most of the funds for 2014 on operations related to the prior school year and the opening of the current one.

It appears that cuts will be made in special programs that the ministry had been promoting to improve education in outlying parts of the country, in educational enrichment programming hours, in teacher training, or the construction of new school classrooms. However, the plans are not expected to result in teacher layoffs or salary cuts, or in a reduction in regular classroom hours.

On the higher education front, in recent years officials have been supportive of an increase in college and university tuition as a means of generating increased funding. Even in light of the cuts to the ministry’s budget, no increase in tuition costs will be instituted for the upcoming academic year because tuition schedules have already been set. It is possible that the issue will be revisited in 2015, toward the end of the academic year, with respect to 2015-2016.

Additional cuts in the education budget are also planned for next year. Even before the outbreak of hostilities last month, officials began looking into where spending reductions could be made. Ironically, the reallocation of funds from education to defense as a result of the war will make it easier for Education Ministry officials to justify the cuts they were already gearing up for. On the other hand, education officials had been hoping that their ministry would be excluded at least from the worst of the austerity measures anticipated to fund the increased military costs.