Finance, Education Min. at Odds Over Budget Increase for Schools in Periphery

A difference of opinion has emerged during talks between Finance and Education Ministry officials over budget allocations for 2009 and the extent to which the funds will be spent in the periphery.

Even though the two sides agree that the education budget should receive extra funding - possibly as much as an additional NIS 2 billion - Education Ministry officials say that the Finance Ministry's criteria for where to invest the extra money are simplistic. The treasury wants to devote most of the increase to outlying areas of the country. But education officials say that bolstering the periphery is only one of many socioeconomic criteria that ought to be considered.

"The geographic element is certainly important in allocating budgets, but it must not be given priority," said an Education Ministry official. "It is not possible to compare the socioeconomic situation in Kfar Vradim to that in Ma'alot, even though both are in the north, or that of Omer and Be'er Sheva in the south. The periphery is not only geographic, but also 'social,' and can also be found in the center of the country. It would be a mistake to ignore this fact."

"With all due respect to the treasury officials' views, the Education Ministry will be the one that decides where to invest [the funds]," the official added.

The treasury is proposing that education in the periphery be promoted in a variety of ways next year. These include implementation of the "New Horizon" reform program in some 450 elementary schools, setting a ceiling of 32 pupils per class in nearly 600 schools, constructing 1,400 new classrooms (part of a five-year plan for building 7,000 classrooms), offering additional wage incentives for teachers willing to move to the periphery, and implementing legislation that makes attending school mandatory through 12th grade.

Another change the treasury would like to see is the implementation of differential budgeting for secondary school pupils. Differential budgeting means that instead of a uniform allocation per pupil, various criteria, including geographic location, would determine how the education budget is allocated.

The treasury's position has the support of Finance Minister Roni Bar-On, even though no decision has yet been made on what geographic areas constitute "the periphery." In the south, one suggestion is that the periphery's boundary be set at Kiryat Gat.

If approved, the treasury's proposals will also involve greater investment in non-Jewish communities.

But even though funding will certainly be redirected from the center of the country to the north and south, the change is expected to be gradual, because much of the increased funding for the periphery depends on the Education Ministry receiving a budget increase.