Education Min. Slashes Budget for Welfare Program

The Education Ministry recently cut over half the budget allocated to the education welfare program, Haaretz has learned. The program, which supports a variety of vital supplementary activities in Israel's poorer areas, was budgeted at NIS 15 million this year. In the previous two school years, the program's budget amounted to NIS 33 million, enjoying strong support from Shas. The cuts mean the program is now implemented in only 41 towns and neighborhoods - down from 88 - affecting over 30,000 young people.

Education welfare activities include learning assistance, caretakers for toddlers and assistance for students with learning disabilities. The program also supports youth centers run by local authorities.

Most education welfare activities are co-sponsored by other organizations, such as charities and local authorities. The sharp reduction in state funding means raising additional money becomes increasingly hard.

"The ministry never explained why it decided to slash the funds after 30 years of collaboration," said Arik Shua, the director of Tel Aviv municipality's educational welfare department. A number of south Tel Aviv neighborhoods were affected by the cuts, including Kfar Shalem and all of Jaffa. "Some of the activities were already reduced, and some will be reduced at the beginning of the next school year," Shua said. "We are still struggling with the decision by the ministry, which promotes the New Horizon [educational reforms] on the one hand and destroys 30 years of labor on the other."

New Horizon is an education reform seeking to increase teaching hours for small groups of students; the program is considered controversial by many teachers.

Another institution threatened by budget cuts is the Karev Foundation, with the ministry scheduled to cut NIS 17 million of its NIS 70 million share. The foundation, one of the largest in the education field in Israel, runs several extracurricular programs in schools across the country. Karev director Nissim Matalon: "If we don't get additional budgeting soon, we won't be able to resume activity this September. The budget cuts have already been decided upon - they're just being delayed, so we don't have to fire staff mid-year."

Matalon stressed that the cuts will primarily affect schools in the periphery, since in the wealthier environs, parents or the local authority sponsor such activities. "The cuts mean every child will get three weekly school hours less," Matalon says. "And, of course, much of the staff that will be laid off also comes from the periphery."

An Education Ministry statement said the ministry "considers assisting weak populations a highly important task.

"We are making every effort to maintain the programs dealing with educational welfare and to narrow socioeconomic gaps. However, due to continuous budget cuts over the year, the ministry is now forced to reduce some of those programs."

The ministry also noted that, "The decision to cut the funding was made three years ago, and was being implemented in stages. The last stage was completed in January 2009."