"The message I'm hearing from the Jewish world is that if they want to give their children a good education, Israel isn't the place," Knesset Education Committee chairman MK Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad) said on Wednesday. "I appreciate the efforts of the ministries, but it still seems to me that we are in an emergency situation," Melchior told a joint session of his panel and the Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Committee called to discuss the generally poor academic performance of immigrant schoolchildren. "The message that I am hearing from Jews abroad is that if one wants to give their child a good education then Israel is not the place to live... Israel must not project such a message. Education is the foundation of our existence." At a similar meeting in July, members of the the two committees said the problem was reaching "catastrophic" proportions. Half of the olim who took the bagrut (high school matriculation) exams - critical for university admission - failed. Worse yet, half of Israel's total immigrant pupils drop out of school. "We must act on this issue urgently, as though we were at war," Immigration Committee chairman MK Michael Nudelman (Kadima) said Wednesday. While he praised the work of the Education and Immigrant Absorption ministries," he demanded "more substantive efforts." Education Ministry director-general Shmuel Abuav described his ministry's efforts to address the problem. "Every part of the ministry cares for immigrants, and we've recently added budgets for additional projects," he said. "The ministry is focusing on expanding frameworks for the study of the Hebrew language by adding" class hours and working to "increase bagrut achievements, including a process of adapting the bagrut exams for new immigrants, along with other programs," he said. Abuav promised that funding for such programs in 2007 would not be cut from this year's level. "We've budgeted NIS 40 million for these goals," he told the MKs. The ministry was actively seeking out pupils who had dropped out and returning them to class, he said. "At the beginning of the 5767 [2006-07] school year, there were 11,560 [dropouts]," Abuav said, saying his ministry had "found and returned to the educational system some 6,000 of them." Others are studying in informal educational frameworks, and the ministry was working hard to locate them, he said. Immigrant Absorption Ministry director-general Erez Halfon told the lawmakers his ministry "is investing NIS 23m. in absorbing immigrant children and integrating them into the educational system and society through numerous informal educational frameworks." This, he said, "has led to a noticeable improvement in the level of achievements of immigrant pupils, in the number of those who were passing the bagrut exams, and in the dropout figures." The legislators urged the civil servants to focus on teaching Hebrew as a first step toward fixing the problem. "I came to Israel at 15," said Moscow-born MK Alex Miller (Yisrael Beiteinu). "With me were 20 friends. We studied Hebrew all week, visiting our school only one day a week. We all remained [together as] a class, and all of us, without exception, completed our bagrut exams and academic studies. This proves that good Hebrew is the key to success," he said. MK Avraham Michaeli (Shas) agreed, adding that "children who arrive from the former Soviet Union come with basic knowledge in many fields. It won't hurt them if they study just Hebrew at first, before being integrated into a school." A follow-up meeting has been scheduled for July.