Stop Funding ultra-Orthodox Ignorance

State shouldn't fund schools that don't teach core subjects such as Hebrew, English and math.

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The state has bowed to the ultra-Orthodox for years, which has resulted in an educational anomaly: The state generously funds insular educational institutions that condemn their students to ignorance. The price is paid not only by the students, but by the country, which suffers economically from the Haredim's low rate of participation in the workforce. Yet instead of courageously facing the problem, Education Minister Shay Piron is seeking a compromise that will leave a good deal of educational autonomy and public funding in the hands of the ultra-Orthodox. Experience shows that this approach is wrong and destructive.

The core curriculum is the educational common denominator required of all students in the country's education system to learn. Its purpose is to give them basic skills in a number of subjects. The scope of the core curriculum in each school depends on the rate of funding by the state. An official institution that teaches the entire core curriculum receives 100 percent of its funding from the state, while semi-private schools receive 55 to 75 percent of their funding in return for teaching the core subjects.

According to Education Ministry figures, most ultra-Orthodox schools do teach the core subjects at the rate required of them; however, these figures are based on sampling and should be taken with a grain of salt. Over the years, Education Ministry leaders have preferred not to face off against the ultra-Orthodox, so they did not try to compel the Haredim to teach the core subjects. Threats by ultra-Orthodox politicians of a religious war took their toll.

According to talks underway between the Education Ministry and the Haredi institutions, the latter will agree to teach some of the core subjects – Hebrew, English and mathematics – in exchange for 75 percent funding. Schools that do not teach the core curriculum at all will receive 35 percent of their funds. That is an excellent deal – for the ultra-Orthodox. Moreover, the Education Ministry is considering allowing the Haredim to open schools for far fewer students than is allowed for other groups. The price for this – schools for even smaller Haredi subgroups – will be paid by the secular public, which voted in droves for Yesh Atid.

The education minister and the prime minster can stop knuckling under to these pressures, and make a simple rule: Not only is education compulsory, but so is education in the core subjects. At least, a decision should be made that a school which enjoys public funding cannot be exempt from this rule. Such schools should follow the core curriculum completely, with no excuses and no delays.

Haredi boys studying in Mea She'arim, Jerusalem. Credit: Gil Cohen-Magen

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