Hundreds of principals from the state religious school system who gathered in Yad Binyamin on Wednesday threatened to go on strike, along with their pupils, due to what has been labeled a funding crisis.
The funding problems are rooted in an initiative of the Bayit Yehudi party and Deputy Education Minister Avraham Wortzman which began at the beginning of this academic year, whereby parents of children in the state school system – of which the state religious schools are a part – would pay 10 percent less than they had up till now to their schools, and the government would make up the shortfall.
Officials from the state religious school networks said that if the funds were not transferred by Independence Day, they would initiate the strike two days after, on May 8.
Rabbi Haim Druckman, a leading figure in the national- religious world and the head of the Bnei Akiva educational institutes, said the schools were facing a severe funding problem because of the new initiative.
“I’m sure that the intentions were good, but it is harming the state religious educational system,” he said at the meeting.
Although parents have begun to pay less, the government has yet to fulfill its side of the deal, and the state religious schools are feeling the pinch due to the decline in funds amounting to tens of millions of shekels.
Officials within the system are warning that the lack of funds could dramatically effect preparations for the coming academic year and have even said that if the government does not make good on its promise, hundreds of teachers may have to be fired.
Teaching hours may also have to be reduced, the state religious schools system has warned.
A special working group has been established to deal with the crisis, including officials from the school networks of Bnei Akiva, Amit, Na’am Tzviyah, Ohr Torah Stone and Horev, among others, who met for Wednesday’s emergency meeting in Yad Binyamin.
Wortzman acknowledged on Wednesday, before the meeting, that not all the promised funds had been delivered, but he said that they would be paid in full before the end of the academic year.
Speaking to Arutz Sheva, the deputy minister said that the problems experienced this year would be a one-off and were related to internal bureaucratic problems of the ministry.
“The criteria and parameters [for government funding] are being established now, and in the coming academic year everything will be more orderly,” Wortzman said.
Bayit Yehudi MK and chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee Nissim Slomiansky also sought to allay fears and said there was no intent to transfer the funding deficit to the national-religious high schools system.
He also said there would be no need to fire any teachers or educators, as the funds are earmarked for the schools and have already been set aside for this purpose, but he admitted that officials in the state religious school system were right to be concerned with the funding shortfall they are currently experiencing, which amounts to a reduction of 10% from their previous annual budget.
The Ne’emanei Torah VaAvodah (NTA) lobbying group has, however, expressed concern over the broader setup of the state religious school system and says that the different networks must operate in a more efficient manner in order to make the best use of funds available.
One problem the group points to is the relatively small size of schools in the national- religious sector, which frequently have just 200 to 300 pupils, compared to those in the secular sector which have as many as 1,000 pupils.
NTA, a national-religious group itself, also says that the increasing trend of gender separation in national-religious schools decreases efficiency and that budgets could be boosted by having boys and girls together at least for some classes.
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