Israel Legislates Greater Preschool Oversight, but Lacks Funding for More Staff

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Israel is expected to pass reforms on preschools, but won't legislate adding more staff due to lack of funding.
Israel is expected to pass reforms on preschools, but won't legislate adding more staff due to lack of funding. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The Knesset Committee on the Rights of the Child is expected to approve Sunday regulations for the supervision of day care centers, after removing requirements for increased staffing levels that were recommended by the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry.

The regulations constitute the implementation of the 2018 Day Care Supervision Law, which officially became effective on September 1, 2019.

Sources involved in the legislative process said the main differences between the ministry’s proposal and the version the committee will vote on was dropping an article providing for increasing the caregiver-to-children ratio in each center, due to a lack of funding.

Under the proposed regulations, private preschools are to come under the supervision of the ministry and to adopt standards similar to those of public day care centers. That includes maintaining a ratio of one caregiver for six children aged six to 15 months and one per 11 for children from 15 months to three years.

Ministry data show that about 90 percent of private day care centers say they comply with these rules. But many private day care facilities do not report their compliance to the authorities.

The ministry originally asked for a ratio of one to five for the younger group and one to 10 for the older group. The Finance Ministry opposed this, arguing that it would raise prices and could even force some day care centers. Private day care centers also opposed the requirements.

Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Minister Itzik Shmuli told Haaretz recently that he would not approve the regulations if they did not increase the ratios, saying the law would be “meaningless” in that event.

The Day Care Supervision Law has only been partially implemented in light of the absence of the necessary regulations. A majority of children younger than 3 years who are in day care attend private facilities, which previously were not under ministry supervision.

The regulations would require the day care centers to provide 220 hours of training to caregivers and educators, at the rate four hours a month. Supervised day care centers have monthly classes; if the regulations are approved, private day care centers will be required to follow suit.

Ministry representative Amir Medina told the committee last week that 40 million shekels ($12.50 million) a year for seven years have been allocated for implementing the regulations. He said this is insufficient for the teaching and training, as these funds would firstly go to ramping up supervision and security cameras and explanatory material to inform the public about the law. Talks with the treasury have yielded an agreement to add some additional funding for safety improvements at the centers.

The committee chairman, MK Yousef Jabarin of the Joint List told Haaretz last week that “the government didn’t promise the necessary funding for the regulations and therefore we were unable to approve them beforehand. If children were really given priority then the proper budget would have been approved for training and teaching and safety because we cannot compromise when it comes to the youngest of children. The principles that guided me and fellow committee members was not to give in on children’s’ welfare while at the same time avoiding adding any additional economic burdens on the parents and those running the day care centers.”

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