The head of a largely Bedouin region in Israel's south said Sunday that the 17,000 students under his purview would not start the school year on time due to a lack of funding.
The al-Kasom Regional Council in the Negev says it has a deficit of about 17 million shekels ($4.8 million) because the Education Ministry is not giving it enough money and must use resources that were to be invested elsewhere.
The ministry said it was in intensive talks with the council to open the school year as planned.
The school year in Israel's Arab community begins on Monday, a day later than in Jewish schools. The al-Kasom council is responsible for education for five Bedouin villages and five more communities unrecognized by the state, accounting for 4,000 schoolchildren overall.
According to the council, the Education Ministry does not estimate correctly the funding its schools need. The head of the regional council, Salameh al-Atrash, told Haaretz that the council sent three letters to the ministry about its budgetary straits and did not receive a satisfactory answer.
According to Atrash, the ministry said in the beginning of August that the matter was being handled, but no additional funding had been received. “The ministry says it understands the distress of the Bedouin living in unrecognized communities, but it does nothing,” Atrash said.
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In July, representatives of the regional council met with Education Ministry officials and the head the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee, Yaakov Margi (Shas). But according to Atrash no agreement was reached on the budget.
A few days ago, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel sent a letter to the ministry demanding that funding be transferred to ensure the opening of the school year.
Sharaf Hassan, the head of the education department for the association, said his group would petition the High Court of Justice against the ministry no response was received.
For its part, the Education Ministry added: “Over the years huge funding has been transferred to the council to maintain the best educational services and sometimes beyond the letter of the law, as in the case of providing transportation for children age 3 and 4 and in participating 100 percent in transportation for students."
The ministry said that it "also operates informal educational activities for the children and provides funding for construction of new schools and preschools. The extent of the ministry’s investments attests to the major momentum” in the unrecognized Negev Bedouin communities.
“Any claim otherwise is baseless,” the ministry added.