Jerusalem to Take $93 Million Loan to Address Arab, ultra-Orthodox Classroom Shortage

The municipality has already crafted a five-year plan to build 2,200 classrooms at a cost of $585 million – especially for Arabs and ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Girls starting the school year in East Jerusalem's A-Tur neighborhood, September 2015.
Emil Salman

The Jerusalem municipality will borrow 350 million shekels ($93 million) to accelerate its plans to build new classrooms and address the city’s dire classroom shortage.

The funds are to be used to finish planning and licensing for the construction of new schools and preschools, to complete projects already underway, and to start the construction of classrooms where preparations have already been made.

“This decision reflects the taking of responsibility for the wide gaps between the Arab and ultra-Orthodox communities on one side and the rest,” said Deputy Mayor Ofer Berkovitch, city hall’s finance chief. “Even this step isn’t enough to solve the classroom shortage, and it would be best if the state stepped in to help us meet the challenge.”

The Jerusalem municipality has already crafted a five-year plan to build 2,200 classrooms at a cost of 2.2 billion shekels.

Two months ago, Jerusalem’s parents association petitioned the High Court of Justice, demanding that the municipality and the education and finance ministries address the shortage.

According to the petition, largely Arab East Jerusalem suffers a shortfall of 2,000 classrooms. In the west of the city, particularly in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, the number is 1,600.

As a result, private schools and other recognized but unaffiliated schools have cropped up. Also, there is overcrowding in classrooms, which are often located in unsuitable rooms or even unsuitable buildings.

The municipality is expected to pay 1 million shekels this year in rent for buildings that house classrooms.

February will mark the fifth anniversary of a High Court ruling on East Jerusalem’s classroom shortage. The court ruled that the Education Ministry and municipality must build enough classrooms so that every student who seeks to transfer to a municipal school from a private school or some other recognized school can do so.

The judges provided five years to solve the problem. Since then, even though city hall and the ministry have said they have striven to address the problem, the shortage has only worsened.

The Education Ministry says a lack of suitable areas and construction plans, not funds, is responsible for the delay. In the past, the municipality said the problem was a lack of planning, but over the past year it has blamed a lack of funding.

In contrast to construction budgets, which come from the Education Ministry, the budget for renting facilities comes from city coffers, so the municipality says residents, via property tax, are paying for something that is supposed to be funded by the state.