Israel's Religious Jews Get More School Funds Than Other Sectors, Ministry Confirms

Arab high school students from weak socioeconomic backgrounds receive 42% less ministry funding than Jews from a similar background, data shows.

Avishag Shaar-Yashuv

Shortly after Education Minister Shay Piron’s resignation last week, the Education Ministry published statistics on funding for Israel’s various school systems. The figures were from 2012, even though data from 2014 is already known – and the numbers haven’t changed – and give further backing to investigations published by TheMarker over the past few years indicating discriminatory funding in favor of religious Jews, and against Arabs.

The results of the funding policy are evident in every quantifiable category, from matriculation exam results, international test results and national Meitzav test results – and all indicate that the ministry has failed to close gaps and educate Israeli students as befits a Western nation.

Michal Fattal

One statistic indicating the extent to which funding is based on politics shows that primary school students in the private education networks run by Shas and United Torah Judaism receive more funding than students in the secular state system. Thus, students in Israel’s largest state-run school system receive less funding than those in private systems run by political parties and that fail to fully teach the core curriculum, and furthermore lack proper oversight.

According to the data, primary school students in the national-religious sector received 15,391 shekels each in Education Ministry funding in 2012, versus 14,013 shekels in the ultra-Orthodox sector (run by Shas and UTJ), 13,864 shekels in the Arab sector and 13,196 shekels in the public, secular Jewish sector.

In other words, primary school students in the country’s largest school system – the secular Jewish system – received 6% less state funding than those in private Shas and UTJ schools, and 15% less than those in national religious schools. Secular Jewish children received funding close to that of Arab children, although poorer Arab children actually received less funding than poorer Jewish children.

The data also indicates that Arab high-schoolers from a weak socioeconomic background receive 42% less ministry funding than Jewish high-schoolers from a similar backround – 18,200 shekels versus 31,900 shekels. Arab high-schoolers from more stable socioeconomic backgrounds received 27% less funding than their Jewish counterparts – 14,800 shekels versus 20,500 shekels. On average, Arab high-school students received 24% less than their Jewish counterparts.

However, Jewish students at national-religious high schools received average funding of 27,600 shekels – 15% more than their counterparts at secular Jewish high schools.

Some 89% of the state education budget per child goes toward instruction. The cost of instruction was highest for ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox children – meaning they received either more instruction hours, or their teachers were better paid. However, the Education Ministry also gave local authorities more funding for educational equipment and services when it was for ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox students.

The Shas and UTJ schools are public, and the ministry is aware that they lack proper supervision, and that the level of instruction at these schools is particularly inadequate. Generally speaking, the Education Ministry provides funding equivalent to 55% to 75% for private schools in Israel, whether they be secular or ultra-Orthodox. This worked out to 4,262 shekels to 5,728 shekels per student in 2012.

However, the funding for the Shas and UTJ schools are anchored in a 1991 agreement hashed out during a crisis in Yitzhak Shamir’s government. That agreement, which sliced funding for other private Haredi schools, anchored the funding for Shas and UTJ in law. That agreement stated that these school systems would be funded on a par with “the rest of Israel’s children.”

In practice, though, it turns out that these two Haredi systems are better funded.

This funding has been a thorn in the side for Finance Minister Yair Lapid and his party colleague Piron, who promised during the last elections to force the Haredi schools to start teaching core subjects in full or to slice their funding. The Finance Ministry under Lapid tried to take advantage of the lack of Haredi parties in the governing coalition to carry out this plan. Furthermore, the ministry discovered serious management shortfalls and misuse of public money within Shas schools, increasing the calls to cut some 25% of their budget, and thus save the state 500 million shekels.

Yet Lapid backed off this plan when he discovered it would mean changing a clause in a fundamental budgetary law from 1992.

Now, however, Lapid is out of the government, the coalition has imploded, and the status quo still hasn’t changed.