Christian schools, Education Ministry reach agreement to end strike

33,000 pupils from church schools set to return to studies on Monday.

Crosses in Jerusalem (photo credit: REUTERS)
Crosses in Jerusalem
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Secretariat of Christian Schools in Israel reached an agreement with the Education Ministry to receive in part some of the funds cut in recent years, thus ending the strike of the 47 church schools that has been ongoing since the beginning of the school year.
All 33,000 pupils from these schools returned to their studies on Monday.
The agreement was announced late Sunday, before Succot began.
The Christian schools, defined as “Recognized but Unofficial” and entitled to 75 percent funding of full state schools, have been on strike due to the severe drop in the Education Ministry’s funding for these schools by the in recent years to approximately 34% of state schools.
The deal struck with the ministry stipulates that the church schools will receive a one-time NIS 50 million payment, while the reduction in subsidized teaching hours by the ministry made for the 2013-2014 school year will be reversed effective for the current school year.
The ministry has consistently reduced the standard number of subsidized teaching hours in the Christian schools from 1.1 hours per student in the 2003/2004 school year to 0.66 hours per student for the current year, allowing it to claim that the schools were still getting 75% of state funding but for a much reduced number of hours.
At the beginning of the strike, the heads of the secretariat said these reductions had led to a NIS 200m. shortfall in funding.
To address these larger issues, a joint committee will be established with equal numbers of representative from the ministry and the Christian schools to draw up a solution that will legally enshrine the rights of these schools.
The secretariat seeks to retain the degree of independence provided by the “Recognized but Unofficial” system, while retaining the 75% funding provided to such schools and while continuing to teach the state core curriculum subjects and being subject to state inspections. The committee is charged with formulating solutions by March 2016.
A permanent working group will also be created to implement the solutions drawn up by the joint committee and for ongoing cooperation between the ministry and the secretariat.
In signing the agreement, the secretariat also agreed that Christian high schools would not be able to strike until July 2017 and elementary schools would not be able to strike again this year.
“We see this as a wonderful interim achievement as we have not only got a one-off payment, but the establishment of a committee that will deal with the change of the legal status of the schools that will bring a long term solution,” the secretariat said following the announcement of the agreement.
“The Education Ministry and the government completely ignored us before the strike,” the secretariat said, but the strike and its public campaign had brought the issue to the forefront of the state’s agenda, leading to Sunday’s interim resolution.
The statement thanked the Arab and Jewish MKs who had supported the campaign, as well as President Reuven Rivlin who the secretariat said had directly intervened with the Finance and Education ministries to help reach an agreement.
Rivlin welcomed the interim agreement, saying he hoped it would create a better relationship between the state and the Church schools.
“As we enter the festival of Succot, a time of coming together and celebrating diversity, I want to congratulate the Education Ministry and the leaders of the Christian schools, for reaching an agreement, which will enable the schools to reopen, and the children to return to their studies,” said the president.
“I believe this agreement was built by establishing trust between the two sides, and hope it will lead to the strengthening of relations moving forward.
“I wish the students and teachers much success for a productive and enjoyable year.”