Money Should Not Talk in Israeli State Preschools

The Education Ministry allowing public preschools to charge parents another $848 annually will further entrench the gap between education for families of means and for the rest

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Preschool in Tel Aviv.
Preschool in Tel Aviv.Credit: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv

International exams show that the Israeli school system is one of the world’s leaders in pupil achievement gaps among its different populations. The rate of matriculation among the different population groups provides a similar picture.

One explanation for the divide among youngsters is the differences in the Education Ministry’s investment, which together with the funds from the local authorities creates an unequal starting point. That the ministry is allowing some public preschools to charge parents another 3,000 shekels ($848) annually will even further entrench the existence of two separate educational systems – one rich in content for families of means, and a diluted one for the rest.

The ministry’s consent to these exceptional payments in preschools was revealed in a submission to the High Court of Justice, during a hearing on several petitions on the matter of parent payments. To get approval, the preschool must explain what the money will be used for – an additional assistant, pedagogical programming, trips, etc. It vaguely refers to “the unique educational worldview” of the preschool in an effort to justify the additional charges, which come above the maximum 1,000 shekels allowed. Past experience shows that any preschool which asks for approval can expect to receive it.

The approvals for these extra charges began last year and were given primarily to preschools in the Jerusalem area operated by nonprofit associations that promote democratic or anthroposophic education and the like. The permits were meant to be limited, but this year they were expanded to public preschools and “laundered” through claims to “uniqueness.” The Education Ministry says that the extension of the permits is an interim stage in the reorganization of parent payments, but the temporary will apparently become permanent; an opening provided by the ministry isn’t going to be closed so easily.

What parent doesn’t want additional manpower in his child’s preschool? Who wouldn’t be pleased to have his children enjoy programming that would enrich the thin, routine level of education provided by the Education Ministry? Yet instead of improving the education in all preschools, the ministry is enabling wealthier parents to obtain private educational services for their children on top of the basics that public preschools provide.

The mechanism for enlarging the gaps in preschools must be understood in the context of the worrisome trend throughout the educational system. According to data that appears in the submission to the High Court, the amount that parents pay throughout the educational system has doubled over the past seven years, from 2.3 billion shekels in 2009 to 4.6 billion shekels last year. The partial data that the Education Ministry wasn’t very pleased about releasing shows that the permits to charge more money is primarily used by schools with prosperous populations.

The result is a substantial undermining of equality. Those who are sworn to protect public education must strengthen all of it, not allow separate tracks that are determined by the depths of parents’ pockets. The Education Ministry is meant to reduce the gaps among Israeli youngsters, not widen them.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel