Tuition at Israeli Public Magnet Schools in Court Spotlight

Petitions to be heard by the High Court on Monday essentially question the place of specialized, and costly, education in a supposedly egalitarian system.

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Gymnasia High School.
Gymnasia High School.Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen

High Court Justices Elyakim Rubinstein, Yoram Danziger and Noam Sohlberg will Monday hear petitions filed against the Education Ministry regarding tuition payments.

The petitioners include the parents of students at specialized schools who claim that a 2013 regulation limiting the amount of tuition that specialized schools can charge would force many schools to close.

Other petitioners, however, argue that the maximum tuition allowed by the ministry is too high.

Responses filed with the court by the Education Ministry and the petitioners in recent weeks have shed light on the complex process of approving tuition payments at specialized and experimental schools in Israel, as well the amount of tuition paid by parents, and the reasons for which it is collected.

Those petitioning against the tuition rates believe they are too high, and that the schools in question represent the future of Israeli education. They are calling on the court to recognize the special schools as equal to other schools in Israel, claiming that the Education Ministry-approved tuition payments effectively limit these schools to children from affluent families.

The maximum amount of tuition allowed by the Education Ministry is 6,800 shekels per year. However, documents provided to the court indicate that some schools are charging much more – 10,000 shekels per year or more – with special permission. Examples are the Charles E. Smith Jerusalem High School for the Arts, which charges 12,844 shekels per year, and the Meitar school in Kfar Galim, which charges 13,200 shekels.

Only last week, the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee approved the amount of tuition that can be charged by regular schools: 1,800 shekels for high school students and 1,100 shekels for younger students.

Some of the petitioners are opposed to the higher-than-average salaries paid by many of these schools. The Adam Democratic School in Jerusalem, for example, has a secretary-treasurer on staff at 147,801 shekels per year and pays its teachers an income supplement of between 50,000 and 60,000 shekels per year.

Petitioners are also opposed to the fact that the education ministry has not released information about the socioeconomic status of the students at these schools or the salaries paid to teachers working as contractors. The ministry has also failed to disclose which of these schools is supported by private organizations or foundations, as well as how they select students.

The petition pertains to specialized and experimental schools that receive full budgets from the education ministry but still charge high tuition fees. There are dozens of other schools in Israel that that are recognized by the ministry but do not receive full budgets, like the Reali school in Haifa, which receives 75 percent of the normal ministry budget and also charges high tuition fees.

In its response to the petition, the ministry noted that between 2010 and 2014, 37 schools were recognized as specialized. Of those, 20 received permission to charge tuition fees over the maximum and one school charged such fees without permission. The ministry acknowledged that “the fact that no complaints were filed with local or national councils does not show that there are no examples of extra tuition being charged without permission. It is possible that schools are charging over the maximum amount of tuition without informing the Education Ministry”

The organizations petitioning against the tuition payments, which include the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Israel Association for Ethiopian Jews, are represented by attorney Haran Reichman of the educational policy law clinic at Haifa University’s faculty of law.

The petitioners wrote that “the data creates a clear picture, in which segregated schools are allowed, meant to serve only specific populations in contradiction to the law,” and that they are managed “as private institutions that do what they want, while charging parents exorbitant amounts and discriminating against populations that cannot afford such.”

“Examining this data clearly shows that the basic principle of free education for all has been violated by the Education Ministry itself.”

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