Jerusalem City Hall Flouts Rules in Order to Give Haredi Kindergartens More Cash

When it comes to ultra-Orthodox kindergartens, the Jerusalem municipality flouts Education Ministry rules for financing schools. All kindergartens are supposed to have at least 31 children enrolled to qualify for state funding - but the city passes state funding on to Haredi schools even if they do not meet this requirement.

Moreover, the city gives additional hundreds of thousands of shekels a year of its own money to ultra-Orthodox kindergartens. This has enabled them to open in non-Haredi and even secular neighborhoods, which outrages many residents. Parents in the capital's Katamonim neighborhood, for instance, recently conducted a campaign against the planned opening of a Chabad kindergarten in their neighborhood.

Mayor Nir Barkat intervened a few days ago and nixed the Chabad kindergarten, but the parents are far from satisfied.

"Although this time, the mayor intervened in our favor, the city on the whole discriminates against the non-Haredi public," one parent said. "The city systematically opens ultra-Orthodox kindergartens in neighborhoods that are not Haredi, thus pushing secular and [non-Haredi] religious families to send their children to ultra-Orthodox kindergartens."

Officials in the municipality confirmed this, saying the discriminatory fund allocation is due to the large demand for ultra-Orthodox education in several neighborhoods. The officials said they intend to compensate for this inequality over the next few years.

Jerusalem's education system is run by two different departments - one for secular and state religious education, and one for Haredi education. The second department, which was set up during Ehud Olmert's term as mayor, is mostly run by various nongovernmental organizations.

The first department obeys the Education Ministry's regulations, which forbid opening a municipal kindergarten unless at least 31 children are enrolled in it. Every such kindergarten entitles the city to NIS 223,000 a year from the ministry - NIS 7,200 a child - to pay a kindergarten teacher and an assistant.

The ultra-Orthodox education department, however, enables Haredi NGOs to open kindergartens that do not meet the minimum size requirement.

Haaretz has learned that about 12 kindergartens in the south of the city, operated by the Haredi organizations Chabad and Or Layeled, have only 18 to 22 children each. Nevertheless, the city pays the salaries of all of these kindergartens' teachers and assistants - partly with Education Ministry funds, and partly out of its own pocket.

Documents obtained by Haaretz show, for example, that one kindergarten with 19 children received NIS 137,000 this year from the Education Ministry (NIS 7,200 a child), while the city added another NIS 86,000 to finance the teacher's and assistant's wages.

Chabad and Or Layeled kindergartens in the Katamonim and Gilo neighborhoods are not intended only for ultra-Orthodox families; they are open to everyone. And most graduates of these kindergartens are subsequently enrolled in secular or state religious elementary schools; only a few parents opt for ultra-Orthodox schools.

However, many parents send their children to the Haredi kindergartens, where they enjoy the benefits of a private school - fewer children, hot meals, cheaper fees and transportation - with the municipality's generous support. The state kindergartens, which are not co-funded by the city, cannot afford such conditions. The city's ultra-Orthodox education department thus boasts of the growing number of kindergartens it operates and the growing number of children it serves every year.

However, teachers' pay and social benefits in these kindergartens are frequently slashed in favor of transportation or hot meals for the children.

The city said that due to the shortage of Haredi kindergartens in certain neighborhoods where there is growing demand for them, some kindergartens are operated with fewer pupils than required by the Education Ministry.