The Most Inegalitarian Tax

The state has the money to finance parents' school fees, but it choses to direct it not to educational goals, but rather to making things better for the upper deciles.

The Knesset Education Committee will be asked today to vote a second time on the Education Ministry proposal on how much money parents will have to pay to their children's schools this year. The Education Ministry is saying that members of the committee who voted against its proposal the first time are obstructionist, preventing Israel's students from going to the theater or their annual school trip. The heads of many of the country's cultural and artistic bodies approve of the ministry's position, as do the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), the youth hostels, and many school principals. All these groups claim, justifiably, that without the committee's approval, numerous cultural projects, tour educators and hostel staff will suffer.

The present debate fails to acknowledge that parents' fees are the most regressive tax there is. A parent of four children who earns NIS 3,800 a month will pay between NIS 800 to NIS 1,300 per child, according to the child's age. That comes to about NIS 4,200 per year, which is 10 percent of that parent's annual wage. On the other hand, a parent who earns NIS 30,000 a month - an MK for example - who has two children of similar ages will pay NIS 2,100, which is 0.6 percent of his or her annual salary. The gap gets bigger, of course, depending on the number of children in the family and the parents' wages.

Parents' fees have therefore become a central factor in increasing inequality in Israel. The Dovrat report, which Education Minister Limor Livnat wholeheartedly embraced, stated that parents' fees should be stopped, because public education is supposed to be financed by the public and not by parents.

It is precisely that part of the report that the Education Ministry is not implementing, and so it has once again - as it has done in years past - brought the matter of fees to the Education Committee for approval. The ministry also made sure, as it has in the past, to do so a week before the school year opens, so that a postponement of approval will harm the students and the cultural institutions, a move that ratchets up the pressure on the committee to approve the payments "just this year."

The Education Ministry argues that the state is unable to finance these payments, but this argument does not hold water. The state does have the resources, but it directs them elsewhere, for example, to tax reforms or lowering taxes on new cars. A comparison between the two decisions will point up the social injustice involved. For someone who makes NIS 3,800 a month, the tax reforms will add NIS 264 per year, which is about 5.7 percent of the parents' fees he or she is required to pay. A person who makes NIS 30,000 a month will receive an additional NIS 15,408 in 2006. After the payment of parents' fees, that person will still have NIS 13,108 as a gift from the state.

The conclusion is clear. The state has the money to finance the parents' fees, but it choses to direct it not to educational goals, but rather to making things better for the upper deciles.

After creating the unjust policy, the state then tortures parents who cannot pay. Other parents, who have to pay in their stead, are angry at them and scorn them. Their children suffer, and sometimes stay home when the other children go to a play or on a trip. Sometimes the school foots the bill and they feel like beggars.

The way to change the situation is to withhold authorization of parents' fees and to require the system to institute a more egalitarian policy. Many of those involved in culture, as well as the SPNI, youth hostels, parents and principals, support a more just distribution of national resources. However when the matter affects them personally, they prefer to pressure the committee members to approve the payments, and pronto. That is the way a society works that has lost its values of solidarity, in which everyone is looking out for No. 1, except for the government, which is looking out for the rich and their children.

In spite of the above, out of consideration for the difficulties that would ensue from a complete cancelation of the fees this year, I proposed to the Education Ministry that it establish a fund of NIS 100 million to assist the children whose parents cannot afford the payments. If the ministry persists in its refusal to implement this proposal as well, I will vote against the parents' fees.