Preschools with more than 39 children will gain an additional caregiver in the upcoming school year, according to an announcement Monday at a joint press conference given by Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, and Haim Bibas, chairman of the Federation of Local Authorities in Israel.Some 300,000 three and four year old children are in the municipal preschool system, with many facilities filled to capacity with 35 children and only two caregivers – one preschool teacher and one assistant.Starting in the 2015/16 school year, the approximately 4,000 preschools that care for 30 for more children will have an additional assistant on staff.“The children will leave for summer vacation and come back to new and more quality preschools. More educational programs, more games, more warm and personal attention for each child,” said Bennett.The total cost of the “preschools stepping forward” reform is NIS 400 million and it will be divided according to need, covering from 50 percent to 90% of the cost of the program, depending on the Central Bureau of Statistics ranking of the municipality.“Just as I promised when I entered my position,” Bennett declared, “every three-year-old in Israel will receive the same opportunity whether he lives in Herzliya, Nahariya, or Rahat.In the State of Israel the quality of education will not be determined by the salary on a parent’s paycheck.” In addition to the second assistant, all of the approximately 4,600 municipal preschools will benefit from other aspects of the reform. While educational programming exists for the preschools, the reform includes strengthening the programs in areas such as mathematical thinking, music and art, and more.Each preschool will receive up to NIS 5,000 to be used at the discretion of the preschool teacher, with the purpose of enriching the classroom environment.The reform also puts an emphasis on teacher-student, teacher-parent, and community relations, as a second assistant will allow for more one-on-one care in the classroom, more time to be in touch with parents about students’ progress, and also appoints a primary teacher for every 15 preschools to provide assistance and support for the educational staff.“Every investment in early childhood education has twice the return rate, both from a social and value point of view, and also from an economic standpoint,” said Kahlon. “This is a step that is testimony to a new set of priorities, that strengthens weaker municipalities, that will lead to a decrease of social gaps, that increases the investment in the education of all of our children.”The reform was welcomed by many, including Avi Kaminsky, chairman of the Israel Union of Education Directors in Local Municipalities, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, and even UNICEF.President Reuven Rivlin also weighed in, welcoming the reform and stating that, “The fact that the initiative deals will the matter in a differential and cross-sectoral way, giving weaker populations a greater advantage, is important in itself. A society that does not address its helpless is not worthy of being called a society.”Not everyone joined in the celebration, however. Parents of elementary school students in Ashkelon and Givatayim kept their children home yesterday, striking to raise awareness of “sardine classrooms.”Ramat Hasharon Mayor Shira Avin sent a letter on Monday to Bennett, calling on him to ensure that classroom sizes don’t grow to 40 students, as some non-standard classes are slated to be closed and joined together with other existing classes. The ministry responded to the question of cramped classrooms, stating that they are in talks with the National Parents Association and the Union of Local Authorities to discuss this issue.The parents association also acknowledged they are in talks with the Education Ministry and brought up the issue of cramped classrooms at the press conference on Monday.“The next issue that is on the table and necessitates your immediate involvement is the problem of cramped classrooms.We have been receiving promises for years on the issue of limiting the number of students in a class, but it has not happened yet. We ask of you to demand the mandate and the budget necessary, to make the decision on making this a priority, and to act upon the recommendations your office published to limit the number of students in a classroom,” said Koby Stainberg, chairman of the National Parents Association, at the press conference. The association said it hopes the issue will be resolved in partnership with the ministry shortly.