Education Minister Yuli Tamir appeared before the Knesset Education Committee on Tuesday to lay out an ambitious proposal for a graduated payment scheme that would bring order to the confusion in parents' school payments. Individual schools nationwide currently collect extra fees from parents, sometimes illegally, to cover budget shortfalls and school activities. While staunch critics of the parents' fees argue that they violate the principle, enshrined in law, of universal free education, even Education Ministry officials note the phenomenon's many troubling aspects. First, they say, the schools have become fee-collecting institutions, with the national education system seemingly unable to regulate these activities. Also, the payments, which can reach thousands of shekels each year, have become unbearable burdens for poor families, leading to a disparity of services among students even within a single school. Now, the ministry wants to regulate this messy situation in the state and state-religious systems through legislation that would see the National Insurance Institute collect a graduated "education tax" from each schoolchild-containing household. "According to the Education Ministry itself, over 80 percent of schools take payments [from parents] illegally," explained committee chairman MK Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad). "The ministry has yet to do anything about this. For a year, the minister has promised to enforce the law, but absolutely nothing has happened." Melchior believes the plan is a creative solution to the problem of unregulated parental payments, but "it's a case of having a cup that's half-full rather than today's empty one. All parental payments are a workaround of the free education law. And it's wrong. Public education should be free." The new method would allow for better oversight, says the ministry, since it would bring parents' payments under the rubric of the NII enforcement mechanism, while individual schools would be forbidden from asking for more funds from parents. The money would be transferred to each school through the NII system, and principals and parents' committees would decide how to spend it within the framework of a ministry-approved basket of educational services. The NII has expressed agreement in principle with the plan, according to the ministry. The specifics of the payment scheme have not been finalized as ministry experts examine various models, the ministry said Tuesday, but a likely sample scale was presented that showed a dramatic reduction for Israel's poorest families. According to this model, the poorest 10% of the population would pay NIS 284 per year from elementary school through high school, while the wealthiest 10% would pay NIS 1,740 per year in elementary school, NIS 2,868 in middle school (grades 7 through 9) and NIS 3,147 for high school. All payments would be paid in monthly installments.