Funding Found for Israeli Youth at Risk and With Special Needs, but Only for Part of the School Year

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A protest against the proposed shutdown of supplemental school programming.
A protest in Tel Aviv against the proposed shutdown of the Hila program for high school dropouts, Aug. 19, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod

Education Minister Yoav Gallant and Finance Minister Yisrael Katz said on Thursday that they have found funds for special programs for children at risk, students with special needs and enrichment programs for the coming school year. The programs had faced cancellation due to a lack of government funding. 

It is thought, however, that the new funding will only be enough for the beginning of the school year and that more money will be required to continue the programs for the full academic year. The programs are thought to require at least 4 billion shekels ($1.2 billion) from the government, but the ministries have so far earmarked only 1.15 billion shekels for them.

In a related development, the Union of Local Authorities has threatened not to open the school year in September unless by next Thursday the government finds funding to address the shortage of classrooms and to subsidize extended school day  programming ("tzaharonim" in Hebrew). 

The funds promised by the education and finance ministers do not require cabinet approval, apart from the subsidized extended school day tzaharonim, which the cabinet is due to vote on Sunday.

Education Ministry officials said on Thursday that the promised funds are intended for the opening of the school year, but explained that funding through the rest of the school year can only be ensured after a state budget is passed. The treasury said the money came from various budget lines that are not expected to be fully spent by the end of the year.

Union of Local Authorities chairman Haim Bibas alleged that despite the temporary solution for the programs, “The Finance Ministry is continuing to foil our efforts to open the school year.”

Last month the Education Ministry announced the suspension of most of the extracurricular education programs due to financing problems, and thousands of staffers on outside contracts with these programs were summoned for pre-dismissal hearings. The programs serve tens of thousands of teens at risk, with special needs and in outlying areas all over the country.

Since the 2020 state budget hasn’t been approved, the law requires ministries to operate on the previous year’s budget. The Education Ministry spent most of the budget in the past school year, assuming that by the next one, the state budget would be approved.

Altogether 9,000 teachers had been threatened with layoffs, including about half in the longstanding Karev education program, which is run in part through local governments, mainly in outlying areas, and cffers enrichment programs during the regular school  day. Some 300,000 students take part in the programs every year.

Another program threatened with closure was the Hila program for high school dropouts. The program offers students study programs tailored to their needs and abilities and helps them earn a high school matrictulation certificate.

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