Israel to Fund Haredi Schools Even if They Teach Only Part of the Core Curriculum

'Rather than ensure that the institutions meet their current obligations, they are promised more funding,' says Prof. of education policy Lotem Perry-Hazan.

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Haredi children in Jerusalem, last year.
Haredi children in Jerusalem, last year.Credit: Emil Salman

Israel's Education and Finance Ministries will fund ultra-Orthodox schools that teach mathematics, English, and science, and will not require them to teach all the core curriculum topics, the ministries said on Monday.

Other core curriculum topics, which will not be required, include Hebrew, social studies, and physical education.

The plan, to be implemented this coming school year, will allow Haredi boys’ schools to receive a 6,000-shekel grant per student (approximately $1,700), provided a third of their students pass an Education Ministry exam testing their knowledge in the three required fields. Should 60 percent of students pass the test, the grant is to be increased.

The Finance Ministry explained that this plan is only intended for boys’ schools, as at most Haredi girls’ institutions, all the core curriculum is already studied.

The program is intended for Haredi students up to the 8th grade, who currently study at institutions obligated to partial core curriculum studies, and are accordingly only partially funded by the Education Ministry. Out of some 150,000 Haredi boys in the 1st-8th grades, about half study at these schools. The government ministries admit that even the partial obligation to teach the core curriculum is not enforced, and that if these schools even teach these topics, they do so at a low level.

The program is not intended for students at schools belonging to the large Haredi education networks – Maayan Hachinuch Hatorani, affiliated with Shas, and the independent Haredi education system. Schools belonging to these networks are supposed to be teaching the full core curriculum already, although oversight is exceedingly lax.

The ministries cannot project yet how many schools will be interested in the program, which focuses only on three topics that provide basic tools for engaging in the labor market, and at this point it has been allocated 20 million shekels (approx. $5.8 million) per year. This amount could provide for about 3,000 Haredi students, out of some 70,000 in the relevant institutions.

This is the first attempt by the Finance and Education ministries to broadly promote the country's core curriculum at Haredi schools since 2014 – when then-Education Minister Shai Piron founded the Public Haredi education system, which teaches the entire core curriculum, and is under full Education Ministry supervision in exchange for full funding. In practice, this system has remained marginalized, attracting only some 60 institutions to join it, out of some 6,000 throughout Haredi society.

“I find the Finance Ministry's solution a mistake,” says Prof. Lotem Perry-Hazan, of the education policy department at Haifa University, who has studied the Public-Haredi education system in recent years.

“Even today, funding for Haredi schools is allegedly supposed to be conditioned on partial core studies, even though it doesn’t happen in practice. Rather than ensure that the institutions meet their current obligations, they are promised more funding. What kind of message does that send about the rule of law, and who guarantees that we won’t lose this round as well?" she said.

Perry-Hazan calls to focus efforts on expanding the offering of Public-Haredi institutions. “Offering additional budgets to schools that don’t teach full core and aren’t subject to oversight weakens the Public-Haredi schools,” she stresses.

“Many Haredi parents and educators would choose the Public-Haredi option, but the state puts up roadblocks and greatly hampers opening new institutions”. Perry-Hazan argues that Public-Haredi schools are where true change in the Haredi society takes place, with implications far beyond the core curriculum.

בני ברק, אשתקד. התוכנית מיועדת לתלמידים חרדים עד כיתה ח', שלומדים כיום בבתי ספר המחויבים בלימודי ליבה חלקייםCredit: אבישג שאר-ישוב

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