Knesset Raises School Dropout Age to 18

Israelis will now be required to attend school until the age of 18, rather than 16, the Knesset decided yesterday.

The new law, which will be implemented gradually over the next three years, strengthens the battle against dropouts by requiring local authorities and schools to find alternative educational frameworks for students whom schools want to expel.

"Israel is taking responsibility for all its students," said former Education Ministry director general MK Ronit Tirosh (Kadima), who initiated the bill along with MK Michael Melchior (Labor), who heads the Knesset Education Committee. "Twelve years of study are a basic condition for acquiring a profession," she said.

Yitzhak Kadman, head of the National Council for the Child, called the passage of the law a "historic revolution" that enables "the fulfillment of the right to education."

It was unclear until the last minute whether the law would be passed, since Education Minister Yuli Tamir and the coalition opposed it due to lack of funding. The ministry estimated the cost of implementing the law to be about NIS 770 million a year, although the treasury expects the cost to be about half that.

"It's impossible to pass education laws without a budget," said Tamir, adding that she supports the law in principle.

The law ended up getting passed because of the support of 28 MKs, the only ones to participate in the vote. The small number of voters was made possible due to the Knesset legal adviser's decision that the bill was not a budgetary one, which would have required a majority of at least 50 MKs. In order to fall into the non-budgetary category, the bill initiators gave up the demand that the law be enforced by truancy officers.

The Central Bureau of Statistics estimates the number of dropouts at 30,000 a year. However, the number is somewhat lower according to Education Ministry data, which show that some 23,800 high school students, or 5.4 percent, dropped out of school between the 2005-06 school year and the year after. Most of those students dropped out after 10th grade.

The Jewish sector had the lowest dropout rate, at 4.7 percent. The Arab sector had an 8.3 percent dropout rate, and the Bedouin sector had a 9.8 percent rate.