Religious-Zionist Schools Get Most State Aid, Ministry Figures Show

Education Ministry figures obtained by TheMarker show they received $3,900 per pupil in 2012, compared with $3,350 for secular schools and $3,530 for Arab schools.

Ilan Assayag

The Education Ministry generally gives elementary schools from low-income communities in outlying parts of the country bigger grants than those from middle-class areas in the center. But the notable exception to the rule is religious-Zionist elementary schools, which enjoy larger ministry grants than all others.

That’s what draft figures for 2012 being prepared by the Education Ministry and obtained by TheMarker show. Of the top 10 elementary schools across Israel with the biggest grants from the ministry on a per-student basis, only one is a secular school – located in the West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba.

On average, religious-Zionist schools received 15,300 shekels ($3,914) per student in 2012. Ultra-Orthodox students were next, with an average grant of 14,000 shekels per student, followed by Arab schools, which received 13,800 shekels, on average.

Secular Jewish schools, which make up the vast majority, got an average of 13,100 shekels in 2012, according to ministry figures.

The figures are still be examined by the Education Ministry before being released to the public. They come amid controversy about how the government allocates money to help schools, and whether low-income communities with socioeconomic problems are getting enough state aid, compared with their better-off peers.

In international exams for math, science and other skills, Israeli students not only perform poorly but the gap between the best- and worst-performing students is especially wide compared to other developed countries. The disparity is particularly wide between Jewish and Arab students, with the latter scoring 133 fewer points in the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests.

The aid provided by the Education Ministry, aimed in large part at reducing the gaps, is considerable. In 2012, 23.5 billion shekels – half the ministry’s budget – went to subsidizing education at local authorities, as well as schools operated by nationwide networks and private schools. The local authorities and networks also provide money, which was included in the Education Ministry numbers.

The numbers show that large schools in the center of the country get smaller grants than smaller school in the outlying areas. On the whole, Israeli Arab and ultra-Orthodox schools get smaller grants, with the exception of institutions affiliated with Shas and United Torah Judaism (the two ultra-Orthodox political parties).

Of the top 15 schools measured by Education Ministry budgets per student, almost all of them are in the periphery or in West Bank settlements. However, only one has non-Jewish students: the Narat School located in the Circassian village of Rehaniya in the Galilee. It received 27,200 shekels per student in 2012.

260% of national average

But the top school for Education Ministry funding was the Gavanim School in Kiryat Arba, which received more than 47,100 shekels per student that year – 260% of the national average, according to ministry figures.

The reason is that Gavanim is the only secular school in a 40-kilometer radius, so the school spends heavily to bus students in. It has a high proportion of special-needs children, as well as a big security budget because of its location in the West Bank.

No. 2 for per-pupil budget is the Netzach Yisrael Religious School in the Galilee city of Tiberias, which received 39,600 shekels per student in 2012. The average class size there is 16 students, far lower than the 40-student ceiling prescribed by the Education Ministry. The ministry is paying for core curriculum lessons as well as enrichment classes for the students, who come from a poor socioeconomic background.

No. 3 on the list is Nir Akiva, a religious-Zionist school established for children of Gush Katif settlers forced to evacuate Gaza in 2005. That school gets 35,000 shekels per student.

In Jerusalem, the school with the largest Education Ministry grant per pupil was Hativa Gil Hatsa’ir at 25,200 shekels, a laboratory school affiliated with the David Yellin Teachers College.

In Tel Aviv, the best-budgeted school was Yefe Nof, a religious-Zionist school that received 31,300 shekels per pupil in 2012. Secular schools like Bavli and Hayovel received considerably less, but they are located in areas where families are better off financially.

On the other hand, the Terra Sancta School in Tel Aviv’s predominantly Arab and poor Jaffa quarter received only 6,000 shekels per student in 2012. Other Arab schools around the country received relatively low grants even though they are located in poor communities.

The ministry figures also provided average aid per student by local authority, which showed that in the Arab town of Taibeh, for instance, the average grant was 13,500 shekels per student. In Fureidis, Baka al-Garbiyeh, Kafr Kana and Rahat, grants ranged from 13,000 to 14,500 shekels.