The school year opened to great fanfare and numerous photographs of politicians together with students at schools around the country, yet 33,000 students enrolled in Christian schools have yet to begin their studies.
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The decision to shut down Israels 47 Christian schools, not including Jerusalem, was made by their management board, which for months had warned that as a result of massive budget cuts by the Education Ministry, the schools, which are regarded as unofficial but recognized educational institutions, would be unable to start the new school year.
Since the strike began, the government, the Education Ministry and most of the Israeli media have treated the issue as a marginal one — so much so, that ahead of the start of the school year all the authorities announced gaily that everything was in order.
It is difficult not to assume that the issues slide from the public agenda, the lack of interest among decision makers and the delay in addressing the issue stem from the fact that the schools serve Israels Arab community. It is not far-fetched to presume that such a strike among Jewish schools would elicit much greater effort by the authorities to solve the problem.
The Christian schools administration is demanding funding equivalent to that allocated to the other unofficial schools, particularly ultra-Orthodox Jewish institutions, which over the years have obtained full government funding through successive coalition agreements, in addition to the withdrawal of stipulations that could jeopardize the flow of funds. These schools are assured of funding even when they dont meet various requirements, such as teaching mandatory core studies.
In contrast, church schools have suffered double-digit percentage cuts in the last few years, alongside reductions in external funding sources, such as donations. The schools collected the difference from parents, but the Education Ministrys decision to limit the amount that schools can charge parents put the management board in an impossible situation.
Israels Christian schools serve a large Arab population from across the community. The state and the Education Ministry must see them as part of Israels comprehensive educational network. These schools, which are known for their success and contribution to Arab and Israeli society, were mostly founded before the establishment of the State of Israel. After Israels founding, they covered for its failures in the realm of Arab education.
The government and the Education Ministry cannot continue to punish the students in the countrys Christian schools. Israel must carry out its obligations as a democratic state toward these students, and return them to the classroom.