(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Over the next five years, 8,000 classrooms will be added to Israel's crowded education system, according to a NIS 4.6 billion plan approved by the cabinet on Sunday.
The new classrooms, mostly designated for the Arab and haredi school systems, will mark a dramatic 16 percent increase from Israel's current count of 50,063 classrooms, according to Education Ministry figures.
"Pupils won't have to study in improper physical conditions. It's inappropriate and unjust," said Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the cabinet meeting. Olmert initiated the five-year plan, which is the first of its kind.
"To bridge the gaps in Israeli society," Olmert added, "a large number of the classrooms that will be built will be distributed to the haredi and non-Jewish sectors who have been deprived in the past."
A detailed breakdown of the distribution of the new classrooms among Israel's four school systems will be submitted to the cabinet in two weeks by a four-member committee consisting of Prime Minister's Office Dir.-Gen. Raanan Dinur, Education Ministry Dir.-Gen. Shmuel Abuav, director of the Budgets Department in the Finance Ministry Koby Haver and a representative of the Attorney-General's Office.
The breakdown is expected to follow the projected needs of Israel's four systems over the next five years. While the state system is expected to shrink by over 15,000 pupils to some 640,000 by 2011 (or 42% of Israel's schoolchildren in that year), the haredi and Arab school systems are expected to grow dramatically, by some 49,000 and 55,000 pupils, respectively. This growth will mean that 45% of Israel's schoolchildren will be studying in haredi and Arab schools by 2011, while funding and infrastructure for those school systems lag behind.
According to the projections, the rate of growth in the haredi system will be over five times that of the state-religious system. Though in 2006 the state-religious and haredi school systems were of relatively equal sizes (194,000 and 205,000 pupils respectively), the state-religious system is expected to grow by just 9,500 pupils by 2011.
The guarantee of funding, with the commitment of the Finance Ministry, makes the new five-year plan an exception to the rule of short-term stop-gap measures that has characterized educational infrastructure building in the past. The state budget will cover some NIS 2.5b. out of the NIS 4.6b. total cost, Mifal Hapayis will contribute NIS 1.7b. and the last NIS 400 million will come from extra-budgetary sources to be determined by the Finance Ministry.
"I see this as a [national] infrastructure project in every way," said Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson at the meeting.
"The human resource is Israel's most important infrastructure," he declared, adding that the new classrooms "will improve the physical conditions in which Israel's children are studying."