New law legalizes state funding of Haredi schools

Law legitimizes previously illegal funding of schools not teaching core subjects such as math, English.

melchior 224.88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
melchior 224.88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The Knesset approved a law by a wide margin on Wednesday that allows haredi high schools to receive state funding even if they do not teach the minimum requirements in core subjects like math, civics and English. The bill allows haredi high schools that do not teach the core subjects to receive 60 percent of the funds that other schools do. Its sponsor, Knesset Education Committee Chairman Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad), said that such schools had been funded anyway - illegally - since the beginning of the state, and now it was anchored in law that they got the minimum funding possible. "We decided to set their funding in the law in an organized way instead of continuing the illegal system," Melchior said. "Taking away all their funding would only further distance the haredim from the state." Melchior said he would now introduce a bill to fund courses for haredim to study for their high school matriculation tests later in life so they could be ready to join the work force. The bill passed by a vote of 39 to six. The MKs who voted in favor included lawmakers from Kadima, Labor, Likud, Arab factions and haredim. Voting against were the five Meretz MKs and Labor's Ophir Paz-Pines. Paz-Pines expressed outrage that Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik of Kadima allowed the vote to take place on a Wednesday, even though bills in their final readings are usually voted on only on Mondays, the day of the week with the highest attendance. He suggested that Itzik made a political deal with Shas, which was upset at Wednesday's vote that allowed Labor MK Avishay Braverman to become Knesset Finance Committee chairman. "This is a transparent political maneuver," Paz-Pines said. "The bill is scandalous. It shames Israeli politics, the government, the coalition and the Education Ministry. It is neither normal nor respectful to pass it like a thief in the night on a Wednesday evening when so few people are here." A source close to Itzik said it was not the first time a bill's final vote was held on a Wednesday. The source said the bill was expedited for technical reasons, because there were only two weeks left before the Knesset recess. A Shas official said it was important for the bill to pass as soon as possible because the haredi educational institutions must prepare for the Hebrew month of Elul when their school year starts. He denied that any political deals were made to pass the law. This year, Elul begins on September 1. "Thank God it finally passed," Shas chairman Eli Yishai said. "After many years, justice has been done." Meretz MK Avshalom Vilan said it was "a sad day for the Knesset." "The vote gives government sanction to ignorance," Vilan said. "What was fitting for the 18th century does not fit the 21st. It is unacceptable that a haredi high school student will enter the work force with fourth grade math." Coalition chairman Yoel Hasson said he knew for a fact that there were no political deals involved in the bill's passage. He said he absented himself from the vote, because he opposed it personally, but that its passage was no scandal. "I think everyone should have to learn math," Hasson said. "But if the haredi sector's leadership disagrees, who are we to tell them what to do?"