The Shas party’s private education network, formerly Ma’ayan Hahinuch Hatorani but now called Bnei Yosef, has signed an agreement with the Education Ministry that will secure its full subsidization by the government and its future designation as an independent network within the public school system.
The ultra-Orthodox educational network has pledged to make improvements and to allow the education and finance ministries to supervise its activities, as expected from a state-financed institution. In 2013 the network’s budget totaled 527 million shekels (about $150 million).
Contrary to recent reports, the new agreement does not include a commitment on the network’s part to adopt a full core curriculum of studies. Rather, the core subjects will be “adapted to the network’s unique character.” While the new arrangement demands that Bnei Yosef adhere to Education Ministry guidelines, it grants the network “autonomy with respect to the content to be studied and to the pedagogical aspects of religious subjects.”
Data provided by Shas in the past show that core curriculum subjects are studied in most of the network’s institutions for girls and in some of its co-ed schools, but are not studied in full at some 20 percent of the party's educational institutions for boys. But core curriculum studies are provided in some form, according to the data, in all but 5 percent of its schools.
Until now the Education Ministry was unable to supervise Haredi schools properly due to a lack of suitable inspectors. However, in order to implement the new arrangement, the ministry has recently recruited five such supervisors, who will routinely check the curricula and physical conditions at the Bnei Yosef schools.
The complete core curriculum taught at Haredi schools is not as comprehensive as that taught in state-run (mamlachti) schools, which include studies in such subjects as English, math, modern Hebrew, history and so on. According to the new agreement, the curricula and the textbooks at the Bnei Yosef institutions will be adapted to the Haredi public. In addition, the network is to be streamlined: Very small classes numbering less than 10 pupils will be merged, as will small schools with less than 100 pupils. Nevertheless, Shas claims the agreement provides some state funding even for the very small classes, which will also receive financial support from a special fund.
Education Ministry officials report that a verbal agreement has been reached whereby Bnei Yosef pupils will be taking international scholastic tests in the future. Moreover, the network has undertaken to accept pupils on an impartial and "transparent" basis, and the ministry has committed to subsidizing separate classes for boys and girls beginning in third grade.
Although the Shas network is private, it has been fully subsidized by the Education Ministry, while other private institutions only receive subsidization of up to 75 percent of their budget. Last June, the Finance Ministry’s accountant general published a harsh report on the network’s conduct. The report found many irregularities, including nepotism, "fictitious" salaries and unlawful shifting of work hours between various institutions.
The new agreement transfers the authority to allocate teaching hours from the network’s own administrators to the Education Ministry. The network has also agreed to allow an organizational consultant to examine its conduct, prepare a serious work plan, and to use definite and transparent criteria to determine its funding.
The Kikarhashabat website quoted Shas leader Aryeh Deri as saying, “We now have less flexibility in allocating hours and more transparency in our reports. But in terms of the subject matter, the Education Ministry’s intervention in our studies and changes in the program – practically nothing has changed.”