AG Halts Funding for Aguda School Transport

The attorney general's bureau recently halted all funding for transportation to the independent schools run by Agudat Yisrael. An opinion issued by the bureau stated that this transportation system violated the Budget Principles Law and rules of proper management.

Among other things, thousands of ultra-Orthodox children for whom the bureau transfers money are not being bused. The state transfers NIS 40 million annually for busing 16,000 children to the independent schools. The AG's bureau found that 5,000 of these - more than 30 percent - are not being bused.

Where does that money go?

Under a directive from the ultra-Orthodox rabbis, the independent school system decided to favor busing for pupils at schools for promoting a return to religion - the Shuvu network, which targets new immigrants, and Netivot Moshe, aimed at children from traditionally observant homes. The fear was that the pupils would not attend unless there was free transportation.

The agreement between United Torah Judaism and the Likud before the 2005 b udget was passed stipulating that UTJ would receive an additional NIS 290 million, some of which would be earmarked for school transportation. But after Shinui petitioned the High Court of Justice, the state promised that every budgetary transfer under the agreement would be done by the books, after a review by the attorney general. That review process resulted in the funding halt.

As a result, the private school buses stopped running in recent weeks and many of the newly-religious pupils stayed away from school. Education Minister Meir Sheetrit held several meeting at his office, in an effort to resolve the crisis, and lambasted the independent school's proselytizing activity among children.

Last week, the school transportation resumed temporarily until the Pesach vacation, after the independent school system took out a loan guaranteed by two contributors. The school transportation budget will likely play an important role in the upcoming coalition negotiations.

A statement by the Education Ministry said it was aware that "pupils who are not entitled to free transportation are receiving it at the expense of pupils who are entitled," and that Sheetrit has "demanded that the heads of the independent education system act in accordance with the law, or else it will not be possible to fund the transportation."