Israel's ultra-Orthodox Schools Begging for Special Education Funding

Political standstill brings about more budget cuts

Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz
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A father with his son who receives special education services, in 2018.
A father with his son who receives special education services, in 2018. Credit: Ilan Assayag
Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz

State funding to special education in certain ultra-Orthodox schools is to face a further cut because coalition agreements signed when the government took office in 2015 have run out.

Special education services for this community is already underfunded, which constitutes illegal discrimination. The cut in funding will also affect ultra-Orthodox schools that are not special education frameworks.

At the time, in return for their participation in the coalition, the ultra-Orthodox parties insisted on increased funding.

Some 6,500 children receive special education services in ultra-Orthodox schools that are recognized by the Education Ministry but considered unofficial – that is, the ministry does not supervise them to the same extent as it does institutions that are both recognized and official. Families of these children are fighting to equalize their funding with recognized and official special education, as the law requires.

As Haaretz reported, kindergarten teachers in recognized but non-official schools are not paid in keeping with their education level and years of service. Instead, the Education Ministry pays them a salary commensurate with no more than 15 years of teaching.

A father with his son who receives special education services, in 2018. Credit: Ilan Assayag

Beginning next month, kindergarten teachers will be paid according to 12 years in the system rather than 15.

The cut will amount to 25 million shekels ($7.1 million).

Kindergarten teachers who are mothers are entitled to 10 percent above their usual salary. But in practice, the Education Ministry only pays this extra salary to about one fifth of the teachers who are mothers.

Kindergarten teachers in the ultra-Orthodox special education system are supposed to receive 14 percent above the usual salary for this position, but the ministry has not transferred this funding.

According to a document produced by the Knesset research department, ultra-Orthodox kindergartners in special education frameworks that are considered recognized but not official receive only 50 percent of the funding that such children in special education frameworks that are both recognized and official.

The further cut will also affect other ultra-Orthodox schools as well. The law does not require non-special education frameworks and special education frameworks in both the official and the non-official systems be equally funded, and kindergarten teachers in the non-special education official and recognized schools also see their salaries cut to the level of 12 years of experience, even if they have taught for longer.

The cuts will affect some 6,100 schools attended by a total of 158,000 children. Of these, 113,000 are ultra-Orthodox and 44,000 in secular frameworks and the Arabic-speaking school system. Church-run schools are also included in the recognized but non-official category.

In addition to salary cuts, additional teaching hours are to be cut in the non-special education ultra-Orthodox elementary schools that are recognized but not official, affecting 80,000 children. These additional hours are given to schools with poorer children, or to children who need extra help keeping up with the class.

For decades, these hours were an integral part of the Education Ministry’s budget for recognized but non-official schools. But former Education Minister Shay Piron cut them in the 2014–2015 school year as an incentive for these schools to become official. In 2016 funding for the extra hours was restored, not as an integral part of the budget but rather by means of coalition agreements.

These hours will now be cut beginning in January 2020, and the gap in education will widen between students in the recognized but non-official schools and the official schools.

David Sherfer, chairman of the forum of recognized but non-official schools, told Haaretz: “The time has come for someone to take responsibility for the weakest children in the system, to stop making them pawns in a political game and give them the chance for real equality in education.”

An official in an ultra-Orthodox party told Haaretz he was worried about all the funding that derived from coalition agreements that have now run out.

“The whole state is going to be a catastrophe, not only children in special education, including dental care for children and beds in emergency rooms,” he said.

The Education Ministry responded that salaries are determined by the Finance Ministry.

The Finance Ministry said: “In the framework of government decisions on the matter of maintain fiscal frameworks for 2019, the implementation of coalition agreements and amendments to government decisions, one-time funding was given to implement coalition agreements for 2019. The decision involves only 2019, and for that reason the allocation of coalition funding was approved for 2019 only, and will not be implemented in 2020.”