High Court delays petition to cancel haredi school funding
Agudat Yisrael, Degel Hatorah working to circumvent ruling that would enforce core curriculum in high schools.
By DAN IZENBERG
The High Court of Justice has agreed to postpone a hearing scheduled for Thursday on a petition demanding that the Education Ministry introduce and enforce a core curriculum in haredi high schools in accordance with a decision the court handed down three years ago.
At the same time, Agudat Yisrael and Degel Hatorah are trying to circumvent the ruling by passing legislation that would free haredi schools from the obligation.
The "core curriculum" is defined as a basic set of studies meant to convey to students the fundamental values that unite all Israeli citizens, no matter what sector or community they belong to, and to teach them basic skills in computer-based information technology to help them find work in today's service-oriented economy.
According to the Public Education Law and Education Ministry regulations, all haredi schools that receive state funding are obliged to teach a minimum percentage of the total classroom hours that are devoted to the core curriculum in state-secular and state-religious school systems.
Thus, educational institutions belonging to the category of "recognized but not official" schools must teach a minimum of 75 percent of the core curriculum in order to receive state funding.
These schools are eligible for up to 100% state funding on condition that they teach 100% of the core curriculum. If they teach the minimum of 75%, they will receive 75% of the funding. Most of the "recognized but not official" schools belong to the Hinuch Atzmai (Agudat Yisrael and Degel Hatorah) and Maayan Hinuch Torani (Shas) systems.
Schools that are not formally recognized by the state, for example, Talmudei Torah (haredi elementary schools), receive a maximum of 55% of the school funding granted state schools. To receive this sum, they must teach 55% of the core curriculum.
In 2002, the Secondary School Teachers Organization petitioned the High Court of Justice, demanding that the Education Ministry stop funding haredi schools that do not teach the minimum core curriculum.
In its response to the petitions, the state told the court that the core curriculum for primary schools had been drafted and was being applied to all schools. For example, in 2003-2004, 189 of the 196 primary schools in the Hinuch Atzmai system were teaching the core curriculum.
However, the state told the court it was much more difficult and complicated to draft a core curriculum for secondary schools and that the Education Ministry needed more time. At the state's request, the court granted it three more years to complete the job and introduce the core curriculum into secondary schools.
That ruling was handed down on December 15, 2004. The deadline for implementing it is September 1 - a little more than three weeks from now.
However, according to the current petitioners, "a gloomy picture is emerging. Regarding the secondary schools, the Education Ministry hasn't at all formulated a core curriculum. As a result, there has been no activity to integrate it [into the haredi system] through enrichment studies for teachers and preparation of study materials.
"There have also been no studies by the ministry to see whether the core curriculum is being taught or to stop funding schools that are not teaching it."
The petition was filed on May 31. Less than a month later, Agudat Yisrael and Degel Hatorah presented a bill calling for the establishment of a new type of educational institution called a "special cultural educational institution" - a status for which any existing institution could apply.
According to the bill, these institutions would not be bound by the requirement of teaching the core curriculum. They would automatically be funded at 55% of the funding given to state schools.
Furthermore, according to Article 11(6), they would be entitled to unspecified additional state funding for teaching subjects such as the Bible, Jewish history, Jewish tradition, the Holocaust, traffic safety, the sanctity of life and the teachings of the Talmud on philosophy and the sciences.
The bill has passed preliminary reading.
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