Government to Shift Funds From Religious Schools to Arab Ones

Education Ministry plan meant to boost low-performing Arab schools, which get 27% less in per capita funding than religious schools.

Yaron Kaminsky

Education Minister Shay Piron is planning to divert funding from high-performing schools in Jewish parts of the country, especially state-run religious schools, to low-performing schools in Arab areas, TheMarker has learned.

The move follows decades of debate over reallocation of budgets to weaker schools, and comes with a commitment from the Finance Ministry to provide additional funding for those schools.

The full extent of the budget supplement is still under discussion at the Finance Ministry, but is expected to be in the range of 400 million to 600 million shekels ($115.8 million to $173.7 million).

Most of the reallocated funding will come at the expense of the religious public schools, which appear set to lose hundreds of millions of shekels,. The rest will come from secular schools in well-off communities in the center of the country.

Remedial funding for weaker schools already exists, but at elementary and junior high schools alone, the supplemental funding is expected to increase to about 1.2 billion shekels to 1.5 billion shekels. That will nearly triple the supplementary funding allocated to weaker schools.

According to recent results from the Program for International Student Assessment, commonly known as PISA, which compares achievement scores among students from counries in the developed world, Israel was second only to Taiwan in the extent of disparities among achievement scores for students in the same country.

Arab schools currently get an average of 27% less in per capita funding from the national government than do Jewish state-run religious schools, even though Arab schools are among the poorest-performing in the country.

Measured in class hours, state-religious middle schools are allocated 48 hours, compared with 40 to 41 hours for secular state schools and 35 hours in Arab schools.

Among Jewish schools, state-run religious schools collectively get more Education Ministry funding than any other segment of the public school system, partly because those schools tend to be smaller than average and receive funds for religious study and prayer. They also tend to have sex-segregated classes for at least some of the grades, which can make for smaller class size.

By contrast, class size in Arab schools tends to be quite large. The average dropout rate at Arab high schools is 32% and the performance of Arab students on international achievement tests is 20% lower than among Jewish students.

In addition, just under a quarter of Arab high school students earn a matriculation certificate qualifying them for university admission, compared with nearly half of Jewish students.

Piron’s decision to divert funding from the state-run religious system is particularly daring considering that Piron is an Orthodox rabbi. Since the decision is also expected to affect well-off locales, it pits him — and his Yesh Atid party, which did well among high-income voters in the election that catapulted it to power — against two distinct (and sometimes overlapping) groups of voters.

Piron does intend to mitigate the loss to state—relgious schools by provideing other benefits to the state-run religious schools, though it is not yet clear whether that will be enough.

Though Habayit Hayehudi, a coalition partner with a heavily religious voter base, could object to the funding shift, its approval is not strictly necessary, since the shift in funding does not require a cabinet or Knesset vote.