Israel Cracking Down on Mismanaged ultra-Orthodox Schools

Education Ministry plans to tighten supervision; school that want government funding will have to submit bimonthly reports.

Israel's Education Ministry will tighten supervision of ultra-Orthodox schools next month by creating a new department aiming to eliminate waste there.

The new rules, which the ministry unveiled Monday, also affect privately run systems like those affiliated with the Shas and United Torah Judaism parties. Currently, Haredi schools are the responsibility of the ministry's branch that handles privately run secular schools as well.

Bringing together all ultra-Orthodox schools under the new department would improve supervision of both pedagogy and budgets. The department, whose budget for 2013 is NIS 2.1 million, is expected to soon hire 15 additional inspectors.

The ministry has also told the Finance Ministry that if ultra-Orthodox schools want government funding next school year, they will have to submit bimonthly reports on teachers' hours and remuneration.

As part of the tighter standards, the Education Ministry will not fund schools that do not provide the proper documents for obtaining a license, and will close schools that do not meet standards. The ministry will track the allocation of teaching hours, the use of school budgets and the assignment of teachers.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Shay Piron is working to establish a government-operated ultra-Orthodox school system to provide an alternative to the privately run ultra-Orthodox school systems, which are fully funded by the government.

The ministry will pay special attention to Shas-affiliated El Ma'ayan schools, following a critical report last month by the Finance Ministry's accountant general. According to the report, mismanagement of these schools triggered a NIS 140 million deficit in 2012, which was covered by the state.El Ma'ayan's budget for 2013 is NIS 527 million.

At the El Ma'ayan network, 31 schools were operating without proper licenses, with two schools ordered closed. Also, salaries were paid to people who didn't actually work there, and hours for special-needs students were given to other students.

Ultra-Orthodox children sit in front of a teacher as they learn the alphabet at the Shomrei HaHoma Torah School for boys in Jerusalem. Nov. 9, 2010.
Reuters