Israel Halts After-school Enrichment Programs Over State Budget Impasse

Thousands of teachers in external Education Ministry programs could be dismissed soon if government can't come to agreement over budget

Shira Kadari-Ovadia
Shira Kadari-Ovadia
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A theater program in Jaffa for at-risk youth.
A theater program in Jaffa for at-risk youth.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Shira Kadari-Ovadia
Shira Kadari-Ovadia

The Education Ministry has stopped funding most of its external educational programs and recently informed thousands of contract workers of their right to a hearing prior to their termination due to the ministry’s budget problems. Thousands of other teachers in external Education Ministry programs are also expected to be dismissed in the near future if the budget for the programs is not transferred soon.

The total budget for the programs – which serve at-risk youth and children in remote parts of the country and also provide remedial and enrichment classes – is estimated at 1.4 billion shekels ($411 million). Education Ministry officials blame the Finance Ministry for the problem, saying that the funds are not being approved so that the treasury can save money and apply pressure on the cabinet and the Knesset to approve the state budget.

Amid three election rounds since April of last year, no budget was passed for 2020 and the two largest parties in the coalition, Likud and Kahol Lavan, are at odds over whether to pass a budget just for the remainder of this year, as Likud is seeking, or a two-year budget, as Kahol Lavan wants. Government spending is therefore currently based on 2019’s budget, and Finance Ministry officials say the Education Ministry has to decide which programs to continue to fund.

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On Wednesday, Education Minister Yoav Gallant announced a 4.2-billion-shekel budgetary supplement to open schools under coronavirus restrictions, including 2.6 billion for new staff that will enable schools to split classes from 3rd grade and up so they can be limited to groups of up to 18 students. Teachers from the external programs claim it is illogical to lay off experienced staff while at the same time hiring new teachers without experience.

On Thursday, the labor court suspended layoffs from among the roughly 4,000 employees of the Israel Association of Community Centers’ Karev enrichment program for students, until talks between the government and union representatives are concluded.

Among the other programs that have not been guaranteed a budget for the coming school year is the Milat extended school day program, which provides 26,000 pupils in outlying areas with enrichment classes and tutoring after school hours. The 2,500 teachers in the program have been given notice that they are being put on leave without pay.

A lack of funds might also affect the Hila program, one of the ministry’s flagship projects, which provides 7,000 students who have dropped out of school the chance to study in small groups for a high school diploma or to prepare them to take matriculation exams. The 1,300 teachers in the program, which is run by the community centers association, have not received layoff notices, but they are expected to be laid off shortly if the budget problem isn’t resolved.

On Wednesday, several dozen employees of the so-called culture basket program, which funds performances and cultural programming for students, were notified that they are being laid off, but the Education Ministry issued a statement that it has no intention to halt the program, which it said will continue “when the necessary budget is received.” With regard to the Karev and Milat programs, the ministry said that contractual arrangements for the programs are currently being negotiated.

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