Israel Underfunds Special-ed Preschools in ultra-Orthodox Communities

Even though law states that non-state schools must receive equal funding, Haredi special-educations schools suffer from economic discrimination

Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz
A member of the ultra-orthodox community and his special-needs son, January 2019.
A member of the ultra-orthodox community and his special-needs son, January 2019. Credit: Ilan Assayag
Aaron Rabinowitz
Aaron Rabinowitz

A recent investigation by Haaretz found that the Education Ministry underfunds special education preschools in ultra-Orthodox communities.

Knesset member Miki Zohar (Likud) on Wednesday asked Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to examine the claims about allocations to “recognized but unofficial” special-ed preschools for Haredim, most of whose funding comes from the state.

Also last week, MK Michael Malkieli (Shas) sent a letter to Education Minister Naftali Bennett demanding that the ministry equalize the budgets of these institutions and “official” public special-ed preschools, as the law requires.

“In addition to the simple moral issue, it is clear that discrimination against such students is inconceivable. The government told the parents of these children to enroll them in these recognized but unofficial preschools, and they have no alternative,” Zohar said in a letter to Mendelblit. He added that the children faced discrimination merely because they were Haredim.

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Haaretz reported that over 6,000 preschool children in “recognized but unofficial” special-education preschools, most of them from Haredi families, suffer economic discrimination. The law explicitly states that nonstate schools must receive equal funding.

The Education Ministry is supposed to fund the employment of every preschool teacher in accordance with its salary scale, including factors such as education and seniority. Instead, it allocated the same, low, amount for all teachers in Haredi preschools. In addition, only about 20 percent of these teachers receive the 10 percent salary supplement for working mothers, even though most are eligible. They also do not receive a 14 percent supplement for working with special needs children.

Since the state mandates that teachers receive the full salary and benefits for which they are eligible, these preschools have no choice but to go into budget deficit. They may ask for donations or even take out loans. The financial issues tend to push out the better, more experienced teachers, who switch to the regular state institutions — which causes further harm to the children.

In a statement, the Education Ministry said it promotes a clear policy of strengthening special education of all types. For the recognized but unofficial schools it has extended the school year, expanded the types and number of health treatments provided, added adult transportation escorts and allocated an additional 25 million shekels ($6.8 million) to make school field trips accessible.

The ministry said that as part of implementing the reforms in special education, it has made funding “more flexible and the budget will be based on type of disability and the child’s level of functioning. This change will enable the student to take the budget with him to any educational institution appropriate for their needs.”

As for the budget, the Education Ministry said that “as part of the mechanism for running institutions with the status of ‘recognized but not official’ that was established many years ago, the ministry funds them to a level of up to 75 percent, and the proprietors provide the rest.”

The education and finance ministries have established a joint committee to examine the salary conditions of special-ed teachers in recognized but unofficial elementary schools. The new salary framework is scheduled to begin with the next school year, said the Education Ministry. As for the salary conditions of preschool teachers employed by the unofficial institutions, these are under the authority and responsibility of the Finance Ministry’s director of wages.

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