Netanyahu Promises to Introduce Free Preschool Law by Next School Year

PM tells cabinet discussion of implementation of the legislation will start after the defense budget for 2012 is set.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised Sunday to end the ongoing delay in implementation of the law mandating free education from age three. Netanyahu told the cabinet at its weekly meeting that he would soon bring up the law for discussion so that it can be put into effect starting in the next school year.

Discussion of implementation of the legislation will start after the defense budget for 2012 is set, Netanyahu told the cabinet. He did not yet say where the money would come from to pay for the new scheme.

Netanyahu, Trajtenberg

"In the coming days I will present [a plan offering] a proper balance between the needs of defense, the economy and society. Among other things, we will bring an arrangement to include free education for children from age three - something we have been hoping for for 63 years. We are going to implement it in 2012," Netanyahu stated.

Free preschool education for three and four year-olds was one of the most important recommendations of the Trajtenberg committee on socioeconomic reform.

The original law for free preschool education was passed by the Knesset in 1984, but its implementation has been postponed annually by means of the Economic Arrangements Law since the Finance Ministry objected, arguing that the cost is too high and there is no budget for such an undertaking.

The cost is estimated at NIS 7.2 billion over the next five years, including NIS 2.2 billion in 2012. The program will cost NIS 1.8 billion annually starting in 2017 after the initial investment is made.

Senior treasury officials say that without a cut in the defense budget, as the Trajtenberg committee has recommended, it will be impossible to realize this educational reform.

The Trajtenberg panel recommended a NIS-3 billion cut in the defense budget every year, between 2012 and 2016. The total cost of all the recommendations suggested by the committee in the area of education is NIS 22.35 billion.

Two flagship, and expensive, programs recommended by the Trajtenberg committee were the free preschool education plan, and the long school-day program for children aged 3-9 - lasting until 4 P.M., Sunday through Thursday. Netanyahu did not mention the long school day yesterday, which was one of the primary demands made during the summer's social protests.

The Education Ministry was supposed to present a plan to the cabinet by December 31, 2011, for implementing the free preschool scheme and the long school-day program, over the next five years, but no such plan has been presented. The Trajtenberg panel recommended starting both yesterday, January 1, 2012.