Forty percent of Arab students in east Jerusalem do not finish high school, compared with a 3% dropout rate among Jewish and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) schools in the rest of the city, Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat said on Tuesday. He made the comments during a day-long series of Knesset meetings about the capital in honor of Jerusalem Day.Barkat told The Jerusalem Post that this is the first study which has examined dropout rates in east Jerusalem, and that it showed an alarming trend. “They get almost to the end of 12th grade, and then we see the biggest dropout rate,” said Barkat. He attributed the high dropout rate at the end of the school year to girls getting married at age 17 or 18 and boys getting jobs.“These are cultural and practical problems,” said Barkat, who holds the education portfolio in addition to serving as mayor. “We need to raise awareness, we need to investigate, we need to meet with the parents’ committee and get girls to finish high school before they get married.”Barkat also pointed out that many east Jerusalem students see no need to finish school because their matriculation exams, created by the Palestinian Authority and designed for Palestinian higher education, are not honored by Israeli universities. “[These tests] doesn’t open any doors for them,” the mayor said.Deputy mayor Yosef “Pepe” Alalu, an outspoken critic of Barkat’s policies in east Jerusalem, said creating vocational high schools could help retain more students until the end of their studies and ensure they have decently paying jobs when they leave.“Dropping out causes unemployment, poverty – all these issues start from this point,” said Alalu, pointing out that east Jerusalem lacks more than 1,000 classrooms.This year, the city built 42 classrooms in the area, which Alalu called “too little, too late.” He noted that the new classrooms have barely kept up with natural growth – let alone addressed existing gaps.At Tuesday’s hearing, municipality director-general Yossi Heiman presented statistics about Jerusalem’s school district, which is the largest in the country. There are 541 schools in Jerusalem, compared with 147 schools in Tel Aviv and 117 in Haifa. Jerusalem has 240,000 students, or approximately 11% of all of Israel’s students. The schools are divided into three tracks: haredi schools make up 43% of the schools, national-religious and secular schools account for 23%, and Arab schools represent 29%.Barkat expressed his support for elongating the school day by two hours, which would enable parents to work without worrying about childcare. City council member Rachel Azaria argued in support of a longer day, saying that a family of three must pay NIS 5,000 in childcare – effectively taxing people for the right to work. She added that haredi schools should not get an equal amount of funding for after-school programs because many of the parents do not work.Her comments angered haredi MK Yisrael Eichler (United Torah Judaism), who claimed that the city is discriminating against haredi education.“Don’t ruin Jerusalem, don’t take the money when we’re the ones who are going to work,” Azaria responded to Eichler.