Despite Education Funding Cuts, More Money for Religious High Schools

Funding for yeshiva high schools, religious girls schools, pre-army preparatory programs to be increased by NIS 121 million.

Funding for yeshiva high schools, religious girls secondary schools, National Service and pre-army preparatory programs will be increased by NIS 121 million. The additional funding is the product of secret negotiations between MK Nissan Slomiansky (National Union-National Religious Party), a member of the Knesset Finance Committee, and the Education and Finance Ministries, as well as the Prime Minister's Office.

Sources for the new funds for the religious schools and programs were found even though the Education Ministry is cutting NIS 85 million this September from local authorities' education budgets. These cuts are likely to lead to the firing of up to 4,500 custodians and administrative employees in schools, as well as cuts for educational psychologists and truant officers.

The NIS 121 million increase, which was determined two weeks ago, comprises NIS 64 million in new funds and NIS 57 million from schedules budget cuts approved by the cabinet for the 2008 budget that will now be canceled.

Only after the agreement was reached did the Finance Committee approve a NIS 100 million transfer for increased teaching hours, a request that had been held up by the committee since the start of the year.

The National Service program, mostly for religious girls who choose this route instead of army service, has 3,160 women who mostly serve as teachers aides or teach "Heritage" coursework in schools. The budget for national service this year will be NIS 82 million, of which NIS 20 million comes from this additional funding and NIS 22 million was returned from the canceled cuts. This works out to NIS 2,162 per young woman per month.

The pre-army preparatory programs will receive NIS 30 million this year, NIS 17 million from the deal with Slomiansky. This works out to NIS 1,785 per student per month.

Slomiansky can now present an impressive list of achievements in preparation for the upcoming primaries in the NRP, and he has a history of cooperating with the treasury and the PMO over the past two years.

Slomiansky has kept quiet about the various investigations against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert over the past three years, compared to the NRP's chairman, Zevulun Orlev, who has harshly attacked Olmert. Slomiansky has very warm relations with Olmert and his senior officials, and has refused to comment in the press on the investigations.

He confirmed the amounts to be budgeted, and said the decision to transfer the funds came after an examination of the needs of the various institutions and the effects of the cuts on them.

Education Minister Yuli Tamir responded to the cuts in the local authorities educational budgets: "This is a change in priorities in the framework of the education budget, which is intended to narrow the gaps between well-off [local] authorities and weak ones in social and economic terms." She said her ministry's budget had been cut across the board in a way that affected the religious schools and programs. According to Tamir, in a joint effort that included Slomiansky, money was found, some of which was transfered from the treasury and defense budget; and there is no connection between the additional budgets for the religious programs and the cuts in the local authority budgets.