Israel's Funding for High Schools Favors State Religious Stream Over Arabs, Haredim

An analysis by TheMarker shows they get an average of NIS 27,000 a year per student, while Arab students receive NIS 21,000, and Haredim NIS 18,700.

Less than three kilometers separates Israel's largest Arab town, Nazareth, from the predominantly Jewish town of Upper Nazareth. Yet while the average Upper Nazareth high school gets about NIS 26,000 per year per student, the Education Ministry's funding for Nazareth high school students is just NIS 19,000 on average - a gap of 35%.

The difference between spending per student in Nazareth and Upper Nazareth isn't an aberration. The overall core funding per student last year provided by the Education Ministry was about NIS 25,000, but that masks a wide spectrum among the different education streams.

At the top were students in the state religious Jewish high schools, who averaged NIS 27,000. In state secular Jewish schools, they averaged NIS 24,800. But nationwide, funding for Arab high school students averaged NIS 21,100.

Girls at ultra-Orthodox high school seminaries and male ultra-Orthodox students at yeshiva high schools, where the curriculum is geared toward preparation for the high school matriculation exam, got even less - NIS 18,700 on average.

These figures don't quite tell the full story - they relate only to the ministry's annual core allocation of NIS 8 billion, and not other funding of a billion shekels that is dedicated primarily to closing these educational disparities. The ministry right now doesn't provide much data on where that offsetting money goes, although it says it is planning to release more comprehensive data.

In addition, the ministry says it is currently developing a funding formula that will properly address school's individual funding needs due to disparities between different segments of the population.

Moreover, when it comes to elementary schools, the ministry uses a formula that does factor in more instructional hours for children who need it, based on factors such as the school's distance from the center of the country, socioeconomic conditions and the level of education of the students' parents. Up to now, however, the ministry has not developed a similarly structured system for high schools with different levels of funding.

NIS 1 billion to close gaps

Education Minister Shay Piron, who took up his post earlier this year, has said he intends to institute a system that tailors funding for every school in the country. His ministry does provide extra funding for high schools in cities where there are security threats as well as cities with heterogeneous populations. It also provides funds for new programs, which are disproportionately rolled out in outlying areas of the country. This includes, for example, a program to computerize classrooms, which was implemented first in the north and south as opposed to the center of the country. There are also other similar projects that aim to close educational disparities.

But at the high school level, vast gaps prevail. The overall funding figure last year per student in Bedouin communities was about NIS 21,600 and for Druze students about NIS 22,000.

The gaps are also apparent when one looks at state funding per student in the high schools in the country's largest cities. The budget disparities are more pronounced if ultra-Orthodox yeshivas that do not teach core matriculation subjects, and receive only partial state funding (at NIS 13,600 per student), are included.

On a nationwide basis, the main reason for the disparity in funding is simple. The figures reflect which schools provide more extensive services to their students and which have teachers with more years of experience. The major factor in how the Education Ministry determines how much a high school gets is based on its teachers' qualifications. The higher a school's teachers' seniority, level of education and workplace classifications are, the higher the salaries are.

Students in settings in which the funding per teacher is high generally have more experienced teachers and get more hours of classroom instruction. There are also other factors that affect the ministry's funding, such as the number of hours allocated to a teaching position and allocations for professional training for teachers.

Another influence is what the ministry calls the "level of service." The greater the level of service provided to a student, the higher the average ministry funding is. In schools where there is a library, for example, larger amounts of funding are provided. So it is too with schools with biology labs, various special workshops and medical services. And allocations are also higher at schools where students have the option of studying subjects that are expensive to teach. Schools offering matriculation-level studies in chemistry, physics or technology-related fields, for instance, get more from the Education Ministry. In September, however, TheMarker found that there are many schools in outlying areas of the country that do not offer these subjects in any event because of the cost involved and a shortage of instructors who can teach them.

Funding at schools with rabbis is higher on average, which is one of the reasons that state religious schools get more per student than their secular counterparts. Schools that offer special classes for weaker students to prepare them for the high school matriculation exams also get more\

A sampling conducted by TheMarker in 40 locales revealed that last year's ministry funding in ultra-Orthodox, Arab and other minority communities was lower on average. Some schools in outlying areas of the country, however, were found to get particularly large allocations. TheMarker's sampling included private schools and ultra-Orthodox schools receiving only partial statesupport.

The largest budget per student was in Kiryat Shmona, on the Lebanese border, where the figure was NIS 32,900 per student at the city's Danziger High School. Also near the top of the list are students from Sderot near the Gaza Strip, a city that has suffered from periodic rocket attacks since 2001.

Funding for students there averages NIS 31,000. It is followed in the sample by the West Bank settlement of Efrat and the Hebron-area settlement of Kiryat Arba, both of which got NIS 30,200. Funding for students in Afula in the north was NIS 28,000; in Dimona in the south, it was NIS 26,000.

Bnei Brak at bottom

By contrast, funding in the largely ultra-Orthodox Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak was about NIS 15,100, when private and semi-private schools were included, apparently because of the large number of yeshiva high schools there that do not teach core subjects and do not receive full funding. State funding per student in Jerusalem, which has a large number of Arab and ultra-Orthodox students, was also low overall at NIS 16,400, including private and semi-private schools. There were major disparities in state funding in Jerusalem, with the average being skewed by the large number of private Arab and ultra-Orthodox schools that do not get full ministry funding. Among the city's fully-funded Jewish state religious schools, the average was NIS 26,700 and in the state secular schools there, it was NIS 26,500.

Although no formula yet tailors funding for individual high schools, they do get additional funding for teaching French, Arabic (in the Jewish sector), Yiddish and finance. There are also funds for special new immigrant classes and for additional hours of math and science instruction. The ministry's funding formula is based on high school classes of 36 students, which means that principals have no incentive to reduce classroom size, which is among the largest in the Western world.

On a national level, funding disparities have persisted for years. In 2009 funding per student in Arab public high schools was NIS 16,700, while in Jewish state secular schools it was about NIS 21,000 and in the state religious sector, it was NIS 23,200. This means that state religious Jewish high school students got on average NIS 6,500 more in state funding than their Arab counterparts. In 2012, that disparity had narrowed to NIS 5,900.

Emil Salman