Israel's Education Ministry, ultra-Orthodox Schools Near Deal on Core Curriculum

Ultra-Orthodox demand more funding, small sect-based schools.

The Education Ministry is in advanced negotiations with ultra-Orthodox institutions over a compromise that would have the latter introduce core subjects into their classrooms. Should the agreement be finalized, the Haredim will teach part of the core curriculum in exchange for having the state fund 75 percent of their education budget.

Furthermore, the ministry is considering granting permission to individual rabbinic courts to open small schools of 150-200 children each.

Currently, extreme Haredi schools receive 55 to 75 percent of their funding from the state, and although they are obligated to teach 55 to 75 percent of the core curriculum, many do not. Education Minister Shay Piron recently signed a regulation blocking schools from receiving more than 35 percent funding should they fail to meet core curriculum requirements.

In an effort to avert financial crisis, Haredi institutions have come to the table. Currently the ultra-Orthodox establishment is negotiating with the Education Ministry in an attempt to define the core curriculum for their purposes. The Haredi schools are likely to start teaching English, math and modern Hebrew in full. Negotiations are underway regarding the other core subjects – Bible, literature, history, civics and science.

At this point, it is not clear whether the negotiations are over the extent to which these subjects will be taught or over whether they will be taught at all.

In order to ensure that the Haredim meet the terms of the agreement, schools will be required to subject students to all standardized testing.

In exchange, ultra-Orthodox primary schools will start receiving 75% of their funding from the state. In addition, they are demanding that every Haredi sect be allowed to open its own school. This could lead to some very small schools. The Haredim want to reduce the minimum number of students required to open a new school - down to 80 from the current minimum of 250 students. The Education Ministry is offering to let them open schools for a minimum of 200. Parties believe that the ministry is likely to compromise at 150 students in order to reach an agreement.

This has drawn opposition from education sector sources, who argue that small schools are expensive and difficult to oversee. Some say that by opening many small schools, the Haredi community will be able to go on not teaching core subjects.

Education Ministry sources admit that the compromise in the works is problematic, but argue that it is a reasonable price to pay in exchange for convincing the Haredi sector to teach core subjects, a matter that draws strong opposition from its community leaders.

Pierre Turgeman / BauBau