Expansion of mandatory education saved from Treasury scrap heap

Knesset Education Chairman Michael Melchior scored a major victory on Monday when he rescued his 12-year mandatory education law from being scrapped by the Economic Arrangements Bill set to be passed along with the State Budget 2008 this week. His law extends mandatory free education through the end of high school, even for those expelled from school. Right now, the Mandatory Education Law-1949 only guarantees education up to the tenth grade or the age of 15. In July, Melchior had battled both the Education Ministry and the Finance Ministry to get the bill passed, and on Monday he had to work out a last minute deal with both ministries to save it. According to the deal, the law will be phased in gradually, and will go into effect all over the country by 2012. The law originally was intended to into effect in September, but the Treasury decided they could not afford it and so included it in the Economics Arrangements Bill. The Economics Arrangements Bill is an addendum to the budget which allows the Treasury to scrap certain laws that do not fit in the budget. Melchior also secured a commitment that the law would not be included in the Arrangements Bill in the future as part of the deal. "The law is getting under way, and this time in conjunction with the Finance Ministry and a government commitment to implement it. This is something we have been hoping for, which will save thousands of children, of which more than forty percent are new immigrants and children of the periphery, who must not be expelled from their studies," Melchior said after closing the deal. The Mandatory Education Law would require the government to find alternate schooling options for those who were expelled from their school. Until now, those who were expelled after tenth grade were left to their own devices, since the government was not responsible for providing them with an education beyond that point. According to a report prepared by the Knesset Research and Information Center, nearly 16,000 eleventh and twelfth graders were expelled in the last two years. According to that same report, the Education Ministry has estimated the cost of implementing the law at NIS 774m. Slightly more than half, NIS 406m., would be a fixed yearly cost to cover tuition, while NIS 368m. would be a one-time cost to build new classrooms. Melchior stressed the importance of extending the law through the end of high school. "In an era of progress and achievement, it must be said that 13 years of education is not enough to enable children to integrate into the workforce or other areas related to the world of adults," he said. "The State of Israel moves quickly to extract those young men and women when they get into much more difficult situations, when the cost of that assistance... is several times higher [than the cost of this law]. This law's purpose is to help those same students at an earlier and easier stage, so their chances at living stable lives are also higher," he added in a statement.