Private Kindergarten Group Says Free School a Nonstarter

Organization of Private Kindergartens warns that municipal kindergartens will not be able to provide the free services promised to the large number of children.

The government's promise of free education from the age of 3 hit another snag on Sunday when the private kindergartens expected to "go public" as part of the process said there was no way they could pick up the slack by next year, if ever. The Organization of Private Kindergartens, which has over 1,000 members, informed Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar of the problem in response to the ministry's request that it participate in the project.

"Some parents are already cancelling their registration for private kindergartens for next year, expecting to get free kindergarten from the municipality," organization spokesman Shulamit Bismanovsky wrote to Sa'ar.

Children in a Tel Aviv kindergarten.
Tomer Appelbaum

"This is a very risky situation, since not all the children will find a place in a municipal kindergarten at the beginning of next year, and then the parents will be really messed up because at that point, there may no longer be places for them at a private kindergarten."

Bismanovsky noted that only 10 percent of private kindergartens could meet the two criteria set by the ministry for inclusion in the program - being licensed and being incorporated.

The letter came only days after administrators of teachers' colleges told Haaretz that not only would there not be enough kindergarten teachers to man all the new kindergartens that would have to open, but that there was a shortage of manpower right now too.

In the letter to Sa'ar, Bismanovsky also said it would not be financially worthwhile for those kindergartens that could regularize their status to do so. "The process of getting a license and registering as a corporation costs NIS 150,000," noted Bismanovsky.

Moreover, it wasn't clear what the status of these kindergartens would be once the government could locate and staff the required kindergartens on its own, she added.

"The private kindergartens have no interest in plugging holes... or in investing unreasonable sums, only to be wiped off the landscape in two years," Bismanovsky wrote.

"What's more, the ministry knows very well that the process of getting licensed is cumbersome and slow, taking between 12 and 20 months," the letter continued. "It's hard to understand how you are promising parents immediate solutions."

The group's letter also raised the controversial option of charging parents additional fees to preserve the quality their private kindergartens offer. Such a move would subvert the aim of providing equal early childhood education for all

"It's impossible to compare the conditions children enjoy in private education to the conditions in public education... The expenses are high, and the private kindergartens won't be able to maintain a high level of performance and quality service if they are forced to operate on the limited funding being offered them," the letter noted.

The Education Ministry said that officials of the private kindergarten group had been invited to a meeting this week with the deputy director general of the Pedagogic Administration to discuss the various issues. "The ministry will work to simplify and shorten the bureaucratic processes," a statement from the ministry said. "Either way, any recognized private kindergarten that doesn't want to join the registered and subsidized track can remain outside it."