Sa'ar makes about-face after compromise with Netanyahu on education
Education Minister: Dramatic cuts to teaching hours were prevented, as were mass layoffs of teachers.
By ABE SELIG
Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar made an abrupt about-face on Wednesday, voting to approve the draft 2009-2010 state budget after compromising with Prime Minister Netanyahu on proposed budget cuts that had pitted Sa'ar against his own Likud Party over what he called "the future of the education system."
Sa'ar reportedly reached the agreement with Netanyahu after the latter promised to increase funding for schools by between NIS 300 million and NIS 350m., but the exact number remained unclear, especially in light of the 6.5 percent cut planned to every ministry's budget, which would cost the education budget NIS 130m.
At a press conference where the details of the Sa'ar-Netanyahu agreement were explained to reporters, Education Ministry officials did not supply the hard numbers and refrained from discussing them at length, as they had not slept the night before and said they were exhausted.
Nonetheless, Sa'ar lauded the pact as preventing a crisis, and told reporters that the thousands of teachers whose jobs hung in the balance no longer had anything to fear.
"A budget collapse in the education system was prevented today," he said. "Dramatic cuts to teaching hours were prevented, as were mass layoffs of teachers."
Sa'ar's agreement with the prime minister cancels a proposed cut of NIS 45m. from the budget for transporting pupils and will see added funding for refurbishing school buildings and for general repairs that are long overdue.
The agreement also squashes the proposed cancellation of government subsidies for law, accounting and business management classes in universities and a proposed increase in college tuition for the 2009-2010 academic year.
"This is a victory in our struggle to preserve the state of higher education," said Gil Goldenberg, head of Tel Aviv University's student union. "I want to extend my thanks to Education Minister Sa'ar and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, for their hard work on behalf of the country's university students."
Goldenberg did say, however, that his union would continue to fight the closure of Tel Aviv University's Dental School and the layoff of a number of university employees.
Sa'ar did have to make some concessions in the draft of the budget approved by the cabinet, mainly on Ofek Hadash, the New Horizon elementary school reform program, which was begun under former education minister Yuli Tamir.
The reform's budget was cut by 17.5%, or NIS 850m., and the number of schools that will join the program will shrink significantly next year.
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