Bennett on billion shekel education cut: Not on my watch

Coalition of mayors, parents: School year won’t start with these budget cuts.

Naftali Bennett (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Naftali Bennett
Education Minister Naftali Bennett emphatically stated on Monday that the NIS 720m. cut to education and the NIS 263m. cut to higher education in the proposed budget will not happen.
“There will not be a billion shekel cut to education on my watch,” Bennett said. “This kind of cut is destructive and will cause us not to be able to strengthen the periphery, we won’t reduce gaps in education, there won’t be second assistants in preschools, we won’t reverse the downward trend in mathematics, we won’t be able to strengthen educating values, and we won’t change the violent discourse in Israeli society.”
In an interview with NRG on Monday, Bennett explained that a budget cut of this proportion would harm many aspects of education. “There are no miracles, so usually you go to the first thing that hasn’t happened yet, not what is already established,” he said, referring to the new NIS 400m. reform he recently announced, along with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, to introduce a second assistant in preschools for classes with 30 or more children.
Bennett indicated that he does not believe the cuts would be approved.
“I know the finance minister well and I am convinced that he will not be the man that will bring about the destruction of education in the periphery and the widening of social gaps,” he said of Kahlon. “I will take every step necessary to protect and defend the future of the children of Israel,” Bennett promised.
In his interview with NRG, Bennett also vowed that no minister from his party would vote in favor of the budget with its current education cuts in place. He also explained that the cuts are a violation of the coalition promises made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had agreed to a cut of only NIS 100m.
Bennett also addressed the proposed quarter of a billion shekel cut to higher education.
“It is inconceivable that Israel will go 20 years backward in academic research. The State of Israel must be at the forefront of global science – in physics, in mathematics, in medicine, in biology. It is inconceivable to cut higher education resources at a time when we are making a supreme effort to bring high-quality academics back to Israel.”
The Federation of Local Authorities in Israel held a press conference on Monday, threatening not to open the school year until the overcrowding of classrooms is resolved and proper funding is allocated to the issue.
“It cannot be that huge amount of money are being diverted to finance political whims at the expense of our children’s education,” said Haim Bibas, chair of the federation and mayor of the Modi’in-Maccabim-Re’ut Municipality.
Some 160 mayors and heads of regional councils, representing 70% of the country, along with representatives from the National Parents’ Union and the Forum of Regional Parents’ Unions, established a joint coalition to resolve the issue overcrowding in classrooms.
The joint coalition is demanding an end to the government committees that investigate the matter and the start to a real solution.
According to the demands, the upcoming 2015/16 school year must have a maximum of 32 students in first-grade classes and the budget must include a NIS 600m annual allocation for the next 10 years to implement a long-term plan for all grades.
The coalition is also demanding that the government defines a “pupil basket” with clear guidelines regarding the services given to pupils by the state with full government funding, similar to the health basket.
According to the coalition, the current policy of privatizing government services and handing responsibilities over to local authorities is the government shirking its duty to its citizens and lacks transparency.
In Bennett’s interview with NRG, he addressed the threat of the school year not beginning on schedule and said that “I am convinced that the finance minister and prime minister will not lend a hand to these destructive cuts to education and therefore I am convinced that the school year will open normally.”