Court Rejects Jerusalem Bid to Up Funding for Haredi Schools

Jerusalem District Court invalidats the Jerusalem municipality's decision to increase funding for Haredi schools.

The Jerusalem District Court yesterday invalidated the Jerusalem municipality's decision to increase funding for Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) schools.

Judge Noam Sohlberg ruled that the city council's decision of seven months ago "is not egalitarian and is contrary to administrative law and proper conduct."

The council's decision, which was supported by Mayor Nir Barkat, set criteria for budgeting nonstate schools - mainly ultra-Orthodox and Arab schools that are recognized and supervised by the Education Ministry. The law permits local authorities to cover up to 100 percent of these schools' budgets, just as they do with state schools. But the municipality's criteria stipulated that only schools belonging to one of the two major Haredi school systems - owned by the Shas and United Torah Judaism parties - would be eligible for additional funds.

The city's legal advisor, Yossi Havilio, objected, saying the decision violated the principle of equality. But Barkat obtained an outside legal opinion asserting the decision was legal.

The Israel Religious Action Center petitioned the district court against the move, and yesterday, the court invalidated both the decision and the criteria set by the municipality.

However, Sohlberg ruled that whatever new criteria the city formulates will apply only from the beginning of the next school year.

IRAC activists hope the court ruling will prompt other local authorities to cancel decisions to increase funding for Haredi schools as well.

"The verdict is instructive, and a first," said attorney Einat Hurvitz, who filed the petition with attorney Tali Aviv. "It is reasoned and takes all the aspects into consideration. The legal advisor's decision to support us will make it difficult for other authorities to set discriminatory criteria that favor ultra-Orthodox schools."