Activists Ramp Up Bid to Lower Fees at Specialized Israeli Schools

Petitioners to the High Court say high tuition is keeping children from poor families away.

Reuters

The High Court of Justice will hear a petition to make the Education Ministry reveal the socioeconomic status of students at specialized public schools, as NGOs aim to get fees lowered.

The petition is part of a case against high tuition at specialized schools that is already before the court.

The petition states that the Education Ministry is concealing from the court data needed to prove that specialized schools that charge particularly high fees are only attended by well-off children.

The petitioners first went to the High Court in 2014, claiming that a 2013 directive from the Education Ministry director general permitted unjustifiably high fees.

The court is hearing the petition along with opposing petitions by parents who say restricting fees to 6,800 shekels a year ($1,807) would force these schools to close. The Education Ministry has told the court that it is permitting particularly high fees now so as to lower them gradually.

A three-member bench had originally decided not to intervene in the ministry's policy on fees at these schools, giving the ministry a chance to lower fees gradually.

“We don’t know whether the model that was developed is best, but under these circumstances, we do not see it as unreasonable; at least it's not unreasonable in the extreme,” Justice Elyakim Rubinstein wrote at the time.

But the petitioners say new developments require that the case be addressed by an expanded bench. The petitioners wrote that the court’s response “deviated from the interpretation of many years of educational legislation, the principle of free education and equality in education.”

The petitioners have submitted alleged examples of the Education Ministry concealing data; for instance, that schools are charging for extra teaching hours that are not actually taught.

Another example is that one school, Reut Religious Community, did not receive a permit to charge fees for the 2016 school year, but received permission by an exceptions committee to charge 7,900 shekels for grades 7 to 12, including extra teaching hours that were never taught, the petitioners say.

In another case, that of the anthroposophist kindergarten in Ramat Motza near Jerusalem, the Education Ministry allows these kindergartens, through an exception, to charge 2,790 shekels annually to “complement the teacher’s salary,” among other allegations.