Israeli Schools Take Education Ministry to Court Over Stopping Funding Mid-year

Government failure to pass budget prompted ministry to make the cuts, leaving 280 private schools with shortfall of tens of millions of shekels

Shira Kadari-Ovadia
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A special education yeshiva in Betar Ilit.
A student in a special education yeshiva in Betar Ilit.Credit: Emil Salman
Shira Kadari-Ovadia

Dozens of independently run schools petitioned the High Court of Justice against the Education Ministry’s decision to stop funding 280 of these schools since January, after committing to fund them at the start of the last school year.

The schools, 40 of which were included in the petition, are known as “recognized but unofficial,” which means they receive some supervision by the ministry as well as funding, but do not all follow the entire core curriculum. They include Arab, church-run, ultra-Orthodox schools and certain Jewish schools of a special nature.

The petition states that withholding funding in the middle of the school year, after the schools had pledged to employ teachers for a certain number of hours, left them with a financial hole of tens of millions of shekels. The funding was cut due to the government’s failure to pass a budget.

Funding was not withheld from recognized but unofficial schools belonging to the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties’ school systems. The High Court is to hear the petition on Tuesday.

At the beginning of the school year the Education Ministry produces a funding report for all schools in which it details the number of hours they have been allocated and funded for that year. That figure is derived from the total number of students, the number of mainstreamed special needs students and the children’s socioeconomic background. Additional hours are allocated and funded for schools with poorer children.

While funding is assured by law to official schools with poorer children, funding to the recognized but unofficial schools which are not part of the ultra-Orthodox parties’ school systems is not enshrined in law, but comes from coalition agreements with the ultra-Orthodox. This year, because of the delay in passing the state budget for 2020, the Education Ministry cut off funding for recognized but unofficial schools with poorer children. The schools only discovered this about one month ago.

These schools officially receive only 75 percent of the funding that schools in the official system get and consequently are required to teach only some of the core curriculum. In fact, various additions to the budgets of the official schools has widened the gap in recent years between these schools, and today the recognized but unofficial schools receive only about 40 percent of the funding that official schools receive.

The damage to the schools that petitioned the High Court ranges from tens to hundreds of thousands of shekels each, depending on the size of the institution and the children’s socioeconomic background. The Education Ministry responded to the petition that although budgetary data was presented to the schools at the beginning of the school year, principals “should be aware” that the funding of teaching hours “depends on the availability of a budgetary source.”

The Education Ministry recently froze funding for programs and enrichment for tens of thousands of children because of budgetary shortfalls due to the failure to pass a state budget for 2020. On Thursday, for example, 1,500 teachers in a special program for at-risk youth were informed that they might be dismissed because the program for next year has not yet been approved.

The Education Ministry did not respond to this report.

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