Tamir defends putting Israeli pupils ahead of Diaspora
Education Ministry made a 30-percent cut in budget that supports Hebrew and Jewish education programs in the former Soviet Union.
By HAVIV RETTIG GUR
"We must first take care to give a minimal education to Israel's children and only then to children overseas," Education Minister Yuli Tamir said Wednesday in defending a 30-percent cut in the Education Ministry budget that supports Hebrew and Jewish education programs in the former Soviet Union.
MK Ze'ev Elkin (Kadima) expressed his dismay about the cut during the session at the Knesset Education Committee, and Tamir's remarks angered other MKs as well.
"The decision of the minister to remove her responsibility toward world Jewry is mistaken, not Jewish and immoral," said committee chairman MK Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad). "It isn't a situation of one or the other," he added, warning that "if the state of Israel as the Jewish state stops funding the small amount of work it does for the Jews of the world, this will destabilize the foundation of our existence."
"My problem is that I don't have enough money to educate the kids in Israel," Tamir explained to The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday evening. "It seems to me that my priorities should be providing a solution for the kids who live here and study here."
The exchanged occurred as Tamir outlined her ministry's budget, during which she estimated that the educational system needs an additional NIS 6-7 billion to become stabilized.
"The majority of the budget goes for salaries, with only 11% that's flexible," she explained. "So a cut of 2% from the budget is in fact a cut of some 20% of the operating budget."
Tamir's presentation of the NIS 27.4b. budget included a long list of expenses she believes are lacking from the budget.
"In construction, there is a lack of 6,000 classrooms and 1,500 kindergartens, and NIS 4b. are missing for repairs and supplies," she said. "Preschools aren't funded, instruction hours are missing and teachers' salaries must rise."
The budget is some NIS 260 million higher than last year, and includes a special one-time grant for rehabilitating the educational system in the North which brings the increase of the 2007 budget to nearly NIS 1b..
"I'm happy to hear about the rising budget," said MK Ronit Tirosh (Kadima), a former Education Ministry director-general, "but all the issues the ministry is spearheading did not receive added funding." For example, she added, "funding for technology education dropped 15%; Judaism, citizenship and democracy studies lost 28% of their funding; and the training budget for kindergarten teachers was lowered by 25%."
MKs Ya'akov Cohen and Melchior both demanded that the cuts forced on the Education Ministry be carried out equally in all sectors.
"In today's situation, when there isn't enough budget and the ministry must cut in various places, it must be equal in the cutbacks," said Melchior. "It must build classrooms in an equal fashion for all sectors, and it is unconscionable that a Jewish pupil receives five times the funding of a non-Jewish one."
While "the entire educational system is in a state of destruction" and Israeli education "was moving deep into the Third World," he said, "the current budget only corrects minor injustices. If we don't demand long-term planning, and the budgets to match, we might as well close up shop, because without education our future is buried."
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