The Education Ministry released a document on Monday indicating that it plans to allow certain types of schools to charge parents. This will be the first time the ministry has officially permitted such payments, which have long been the norm, but have been technically illegal.
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The document, a draft of a directive to be issued by the ministry's director general, states that specialized schools - including the "recognized but unofficial" ultra-Orthodox schools and schools with special curricula - will be allowed to charge fees. In addition, regular high schools will be allowed to charge for certain programs.
The payments are expected to go into effect in the 2014-2015 school year.
The draft was published on the Education Ministry website on Monday, just as the ministry was presenting its response to petitions to the High Court of Justice by five specialized schools in Jerusalem. The ministry recently ordered these schools to reduce their fees, pursuant to a pledge the education minister gave the Knesset Education Committee to do away with parents' payments. In its response to the court, the ministry said the directive is a solution to the problem of these payments.
According to the draft, schools where children are studying for the maximum five units of a given matriculation subject will be allowed to charge NIS 750 a year under a clause entitled "voluntary purchase of services." But the school will not be allowed to charge any child for more than two five-unit courses, and will be allowed to charge only if the fee is deemed necessary to teach the subject.
The draft also allows fees to be charged by experimental schools and special schools like those focusing on art and music, which attract students from an entire region. These are schools where fees reach thousands of shekels a year per student, and the ministry had not previously regulated the situation.
Additionally, parents whose children study in a specialized program where 15 extra hours of tuition are offered (the maximum the ministry allows for high schools ) can be charged as much as NIS 6,000 a year, based on the permitted hourly fee.
The ministry's response to the High Court states that recognition of a school as specialized will require approval by a committee. The school's conditions for acceptance must be egalitarian and transparent, and students who have been accepted cannot be suspended because their parents are unable to pay the fees. A scholarship system will be set up for this purpose, the ministry said.
Dr. Haran Reichman of the University of Haifa's Law and Policy Clinic said the directives are legalizing unacceptable payments. "This actually says that those in the education system who have money can do whatever they want," he said.
Attorney Omri Kabiri, who represents one of the petitioners, said on Monday that he congratulated Education Minister Shay Piron for recognizing the serious problem that special schools have in funding their activities. However, he added, "It seems the new director general's directive does not resolve the entire problem, but rather creates clumsy bureaucratic processes, at the end of which the schools are still discriminated against compared to state religious schools."
The Education Ministry recently promised to reduce parents' payments in the state religious school system, which have risen to thousands of shekels a year, under an agreement with the Habayit Hayehudi party.
Education Ministry Director General Dalit Stauber told Haaretz on Monday, "If the State of Israel could fund free education with all the extras, that would be a great vision. But meanwhile, there will always be people with money, and they can buy a better lawyer, a better doctor and better education. We have to allow private as well as varied education. Our concern is that these schools be distributed throughout the country, so that any child who wants to be accepted can be accepted, and in the directive, we asked that scholarships be instituted for these children."