The national task force to improve Israeli education, commonly known as the Dovrat Committee, burst into the public's awareness with great promise of an educational revolution. But the clearest evidence that the committee's report is dying with a whimper is the 2005 budget.
A few examples will illustrate how fruitless the public debate over implementing the Dovrat recommendations is when conducted in the absence of the budgetary tools necessary to implement it. One of the most important goals that the report sets is a special emphasis on preschool education, starting from the age of three. But the 2005 budget contains no mention of a budget for this program, which would cost more than NIS 1.5 billion. Moreover, preschool education will remain under the auspices of the Industry and Trade Ministry - without appropriate legislation, without appropriate supervision and disconnected from the educational continuum that the committee recommended.
The second most important idea in the Dovrat report was turning Israel's education system into a public education system that would include all the various educational streams. But in practice, the state religious schools and the independent schools remain outside the framework of public education. Thus the state school system is the only one to which the Dovrat recommendations will apply. And it is precisely this system that suffered a budget cut of NIS 158 million for primary education and NIS 232 million for secondary education. The independent school system, in contrast, received a NIS 153 million increase - not including the NIS 290 million that United Torah Judaism obtained under the coalition agreement. In other words, while funding for the state school system was slashed by NIS 391 million, funding for the independent school system rose by NIS 443 million.
Everyone who has studied the current crisis in the education system has concluded that improved teacher training is crucial to rehabilitating the system. The Dovrat Committee recommended that teacher training be more academic, but the teachers colleges cannot currently grant teachers B.A. degrees in their fields, and the Planning and Budget Committee, which authorizes institutes of higher education to grant academic degrees, has no intention of allowing these colleges to expand the range of degrees they are allowed to grant. The teacher training system is confused and does not know how to prepare for the coming year. As a result, not only has there been a drop in the number of people registering for teacher training, but the morale of those who did register is suffering. And funding for the teacher training programs, the pedagogical centers and advanced study grants has been cut by almost NIS 100 million.
The key structural reforms that the report recommended - setting up regional education centers and eliminating junior high schools - are not budgeted at all and will not be implemented during the coming school year. The transition to a short school week and a long school day may be implemented - at least, in a few localities - but it is utterly unclear how the Friday activities that the report recommended for pupils in kindergarten through third grade will be funded (the estimated cost is NIS 200 million), or how the schools will be renovated (adding teachers' rooms and bathrooms) when the renovations budget, which stands at NIS 485 million, will not be released until after an agreement is signed with the teachers unions, and no such agreement is currently visible on the horizon.
The terrible physical condition of many local schools necessitates comprehensive repairs - much more than the cosmetic changes of adding teachers' rooms and bathrooms. But the current renovations budget, at NIS 50 million, is insufficient even for repairs required for safety purposes, as it is significantly lower than the total renovations budget in previous years, which was over NIS 400 million annually.
Not only will many schools be left without repairs, without air conditioners and without water fountains, but the hot lunch that the prime minister promised will be given to only a limited number of children (after the national school lunch program was announced, the number of children who will receive these meals was cut in half).
And on top of all this, if the Dovrat report is not implemented, the Education Ministry is being threatened with an additional NIS 700 million budget cut - and this is before the across-the-board slash in all ministry budgets approved yesterday to finance the money promised to Shinui. Yesterday morning, the Finance Ministry's wage director announced that the cut will necessitate the dismissal of 5,000 teachers. This is the stick that the treasury is wielding to convince the teachers to begin accelerated negotiations on the Dovrat report. In light of all these facts, the Prime Minister's Office's festive declaration that the extra funds given the Education Ministry to implement the Dovrat report will not be cut is absurd and cynical.
What emerges from all of the above is that the debate over the report's implementation is superfluous, since there is no possibility of implementing it. From the start, the idea of reforming the education system without additional funding was hopeless. The budgetary reality of 2005 indicates that there will be no reform, and not even any substantial change in the education system. Those who have been publishing advertisements calling for implementation of the Dovrat report under the headline "Insufficient Education" would be well advised to save some of them for next year, because nothing is going to change - or at least, not for the better.
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