Barkat calls for launch of 'partnership fund' to bolster education

City opposition leader reaches out to secular and religious voters with pledge to strengthen educational system in Jerusalem.

nir barkat 88.224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
nir barkat 88.224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Reaching out to a cross-section of secular and religious voters, Jerusalem opposition leader Nir Barkat late Monday pledged to strengthen the city's poorly-funded educational system, and put the issue of education at the forefront of his priorities if elected mayor this fall. The move, which came just two months before the November mayoral elections, was seen as an attempt to unite the secular and the modern Orthodox communities at a time when six out of every ten Jewish pupils in Jerusalem is attending a haredi school. "The issue of education is what led me to leave my private business and enter public service," said Barkat, a self-made hi-tech millionaire, at an event launching his educational plan held at his Jerusalem home. The plan calls for the creation of private-public partnership fund in order to raise money for the improvement of the city's poorly-funded school systems. According to Barkat, the city of Jerusalem invests NIS 3,800 per pupil, compared to more than NIS 11,000 per pupil in Tel Aviv and over NIS 7,000 in both the Jerusalem suburb of Mevasseret Zion and the city of Modi'in. He noted that the vast imbalance between the educational opportunities afforded the affluent and poor pupils of the city, using his own three daughters - who are able to go to the school of their choosing - as a case in point. "Education is the basis of our future as a nation," said Labor-Meimad MK Rabbi Michael Melchior, who serves as the chairman of the Knesset's Education Committee, "and we are in a deep crisis." The city opposition leader's ambitious plan calls for allowing pupils to study at the school of their choosing, as well as investing more in school principals and educational leaders and increasing investment in youth groups and informal school activities. The budget for his grandiose proposal would be met by a joint venture between the state and private entrepreneurs, he said. Nearly 40 percent of the more than 220,000 pupils in the city school system attend haredi schools, compared to 27% who study in state secular and religious schools, according to statistics from the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies. The remaining 34% study in Arab schools. Among the nearly 150,000 pupils in the Jewish schools system in Jerusalem, 58% study in haredi schools and only 42% in state religious or secular schools, the statistics show.