MKs to hold up approval of school fees

MKs demand that Education Ministry explain why funds for underprivileged children not utilized.

The Education Committee refused on Wednesday to authorize school fees for next year until the Education Ministry explained why NIS 14 million of the NIS 55m. set aside for underprivileged children had not been distributed last year. The NIS 55m. had been a condition last year for approving school fees, so that children whose parents could not afford to pay would still be able to participate in activities. Committee chair Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad) also stressed that he was working on a bill to abolish school fees altogether, which he hoped to pass by the end of the year. The bill has already passed its preliminary reading. "If the Education Ministry isn't standing by its obligations to the committee, then we can't approve the fees," Melchior said. The vote was delayed until Monday and the ministry was ordered to report back on what had happened to the money. School fees are extra costs parents are forced to pay for some of their childrens' activities in school. The committee also discussed complaints that the cost of school trips had risen by 50 percent. Head of the Israel Council for the Child Dr. Yitzhak Kadman explained how higher costs deprive the trips of educational value. "You [the Education Ministry] are polarizing Israeli society. Some of the poorer schools don't ask for money in advance because they know there isn't anyone from whom to ask. If the price of a trip is that some of the pupils will stay home, then the trip doesn't have any educational value and in my opinion shouldn't exist at all," he declared. MKs also claimed that some schools demanded exorbitant amounts in additional fees and complained that the ministry's enforcement efforts were inadequate. Both the coordinating inspector at the ministry Dr. Hagit Maor and ministry director-general Shlomit Amichai claimed that progress had been made. "All principals who deviated regarding school fees were invited for clarification to the district office and we view such practices as serious issues," Maor said. Amichai added that inspectors had been appointed to look into the issue but that higher school fee requests came from parents concerned about competition from other schools. Amichai said not approving school fees would plunge the system into a whirlwind, "and anarchy will dance through the system. Not approving school fees is a decree the public cannot sustain."