Government Funding Favors Israel's Religious Schools, Ministry Says

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Netanyahu visits the Cramim religious day school to mark the start of the school year, September 1, 2019.
Netanyahu visits the Cramim religious day school to mark the start of the school year, September 1, 2019.Credit: Haim Tzach / GPO

The government is still spending more per pupil on Jewish state-religious schools than it does on the “regular” Jewish public schools and on the Arab public schools, according to figures released by the Education Ministry Wednesday, in advance of the new school year.

The statistics indicate a clear budget preference for Jewish students, particularly at the high school level.

Children at the most poorly funded high schools within the Jewish school system were budgeted at 45,000 shekels ($13,237) a year, versus 26,700 a year for those at Arab public schools – 40% less.

The statistics also reveal that the gaps between Israel’s best-performing students and worst-performing students on the Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, are the highest of all the countries that participated in testing.

In 2019, while Rafi Peretz of Yamina, a right-wing party with a significant religious base, was education minister, the budget for Jewish state religious high schools reached an all-time high. The annual budget per student at these schools increased 40% since 2015, to 43,100 shekels per student – some 60% above the average for state Arab students (26,800 shekels) and 31% more than the per-pupil allocation for “ordinary” state schools (32,800 shekels).

The largest funding gaps were between high schools in the different school systems. The system offers preferential funding for weak students only within the Jewish sector, while discriminating against nonreligious Jews and Arabs.

Per-pupil spending for state-religious high schools increased 40% between 2015 and 2019, as noted. Funding for Arab high schools rose 36% and funding for “regular” state high schools increased only 27%. The latter two groups were receiving less funding in the first place as of 2015, and since then the gap has only increased. Since 2012 the per-pupil budget for state-religious schools has increased 60%, much more than for any other sector.

Last year, the Education Ministry announced a plan to spend 500 million shekels on 160 Arab high schools, which would diminish the funding gap somewhat. However, the ministry is not yet willing to implement the plan.

The statistics indicate that children from disadvantaged families receive less funding for their high school – some 31,000 shekels, while children in better-off communities typically are budgeted 1,000-4,000 shekels more per year. Among Jewish students, those from disadvantaged backgrounds receive 50% more funding than those from better-off communities, while among Arab students, there’s no preferential funding for the poor.

The statistics for ultra-Orthodox students relate primarily to high schools for girls, as boys typically attend yeshivas that are not state-run and do not complete matriculation exams. Haredi schools are often partially private. Thus the average state budget for Haredi high-school students is only 24,400 shekels per girl, after increasing 30% since 2015 and 52% since 2012.

Funding gaps in elementary and middle schools have narrowed somewhat in the past few years, but they haven’t disappeared entirely. Jewish elementary school students from disadvantaged backgrounds were funded some 21,600 shekels a year, while Arab students from similar backgrounds received funding of 18,900 shekels a year, some 12.5% less. In 2015, however, the gap was 20%.

In 2019 the ministry implemented a plan to minimize funding gaps between the different school systems, which succeeded in part.

In middle schools, disadvantaged Arab students receive some 23,000 shekels in funding a year, versus 30,800 shekels per Jewish student from a similar background – a 25% difference.

As opposed to high schools, Israel’s elementary schools and middle schools receive funding from the national government based on the surrounding community’s socioeconomic standing.

Elementary schools in the state-religious system also received more funding than “regular” Jewish elementary schools. Students in the former received some 17,800 shekels in funding in 2019, about 15% more than the 15,000-shekel budget for those in the latter school system. Arab elementary schoolers received 18,300 shekels on average.

The state gave 13,900 shekels a year in funding to students in the Haredi Ma’ayan Torani education network and independent school network. These schools are private schools and not part of Israel’s national education system.

Minorities and children at risk

Meanwhile, the cabinet is expected to cancel educational programs intended to advance and assist students in outlying areas and from disadvantaged backgrounds, Ethiopian-Israelis, Arabs, members of the LGBTQ community, children at risk and those with special needs. As of September 1, thousands of people working in these programs are slated to be laid off, while the students will be left without alternative programs or assistance.

Last week, Education Minister Yoav Galant announced that 1.1 billion shekels in funding had been found to continue running several programs at risk of cancellation. However, all the above programs have an annual budget of 4.8 billion shekels.

The funding will enable the Kerev enrichment program and the Hila program for at-risk teens to continue operating. Limited funding is also being made available for cultural programming in schools.

Among the programs being canceled are a program offering after-school activities to some 60,000 children in outlying areas and disadvantaged communities; a program for advancing Ethiopian children that serves some 20,000 pupils; a program for LGBTQ children in outlying areas that serves 2,000; a program for French immigrant children; the Virtual High School program enabling children in outlying areas to take higher level courses than their local school offers; the Ra’im social program for autistic teens in outlying areas; and several other programs serving disabled children and adults.

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