MKs bypass court, back haredi, Arab school funding

The Knesset Finance Committee bypassed a High Court ruling on Tuesday and voted in favor of providing state-funded hot meals and extending days for haredi and Arab schools at a cost of NIS 5 million a year for more than five years. Two haredi MKs, Moshe Gafni (Degel Hatorah) and Meshulam Nahari (Shas) drafted the private bill that was approved unanimously by the committee. It will now move on to the Knesset plenum for a first reading. In October the High Court ruled that parents who choose not to send their children to state schools forfeit their right to hot meals and extended school days. In order to escape unwanted secular influences on curriculum, the vast majority of haredim send their children to one of three semi-private school systems. Two of the systems, Hinuch Atzmai and Shas's Ma'ayan Hinuch Torani, are already eligible for the hot meals and extended learning hours. However, the "recognized but unofficial" school system, which caters primarily to haredi females and Arabs, are not eligible. In order to prevent the need for the support of 51 MKs in the plenum vote, Gafni and Nahari's law stipulates that funding will not exceed NIS 5m. a year. The total cost, which includes the addition of 360 new classrooms, will be NIS 27m. Finance Ministry representatives, quoting from the High Court ruling, opposed the bill on both budgetary and moral grounds.