Christian Schools to Reopen Monday as Strike Ends

Strike over budget cuts ends with agreement between schools and Education Ministry for one-time budgetary supplement and committee to look into grievances.

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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A protest by  students and teachers of Israel's Christian Schools. One sign reads: 'Fact: 87% of high-tech people graduated from our schools'.
A protest by students and teachers of Israel's Christian Schools. One sign reads: 'Fact: 87% of high-tech people graduated from our schools'.Credit: Emil Salman
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

Some 33,000 Christian schoolchildren are expected to return to school on Monday, after the council of Christian schools in Israel announced the end of its month-long strike on Sunday afternoon.

The country's 47 Christian schools have been striking since the start of the school year over what they say is years of discriminatory and crippling budget cuts. The schools serve Israel's Arab-Christian community.

In terms of the agreement reached early Sunday between the council and the Education Ministry, the schools will receive 50 million shekels (about $12.7 million) immediately, as well as another 7.5 million shekels to be used for "fostering development."

The council announced that the schools will make up the school days lost during the strike over the course of the school year. They also announced a 25 percent discount on school fees for elementary school students this year.

"We regard the agreement as a provisional achievement for our schools, given that we received not only one-time financial support but also an agreement to establish a committee to change our legal status, which will enable a long-term solution," the council said in a statement.

However some parents of students in the Christian school system said the agreement did not represent an achievement. They demanded more transparency from the council and their participation in decisions regarding school fees.

The remaining unresolved issue concerns the schools' right to strike again in the future. The ministry asked for a commitment for the church schools to not go on strike again before the end of the next school year in 2017, while the schools committee agreed only to promise not to go on strike before the end of the present school year.

It was agreed that secondary schools would not go on strike before the end of the school year in 2017, while primary schools would agree not to strike again this school year.

"As we enter the festival of Succoth (Tabernacles), a time of coming together and celebrating diversity, I want to congratulate the Education Ministry and the leaders of the Christian schools, for reaching an agreement which will enable the schools to reopen, and the children to return to their studies," President Reuven Rivlin said in response to the ending of the strike.

"I believe this agreement was built by establishing trust between the two sides, and hope it will lead to the strengthening of relations moving forward.

"I wish the students and teachers much success for a productive and enjoyable year."

The two sides also agreed to establish a joint committee to discuss the relationship between the church schools and the ministry, and ways to budget the schools in the future. The agreement states that the committee will be headed by a person agreed upon by both parties,

The government used to fund 65 percent of Christian schools’ budgets, with parents paying the rest. However, the amount the state pays was cut to 34 percent in 2013. Christian school representatives were demanding that the ministry provide about 200 million shekels (more than $50 million) in government funding, but the ministry was offering much less - an increase of several tens of millions of shekels beyond current funding levels.

The ministry claims the schools rejected all its proposals, including that they become part of the state system. Christian school officials contend this would harm their independence and identity. Another option, to reclassify them as magnet, or specialty, schools, allowing them to charge higher fees, would make them too costly for some families.

Yet the ministry maintains that it does provide the schools with 75 percent of the funding that regular schools get. The rub is that the ministry reduced the state-subsidized teaching hours per student in Christian schools, so the 75 percent is fewer shekels than it used to be.

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