Most children aged three and four will be able to attend preschool for free during the next school year, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar told the Knesset Education Committee on Monday.In addition, the Knesset Finance Committee unanimously voted to authorize a NIS 1.3 billion addition to the Education Ministry budget to implement the early childhood education plan and build additional preschools.Although the cabinet decision to provide free education to three- and four-year - olds, as well as the Trajtenberg Committee on Socioeconomic Change’s recommendations on the matter, did not say it must be implemented in the 2012-2013 school year, Sa’ar called it his “mission” to do so to the extent possible. In addition, the ministry is committed to providing free education to all three- and four-year-olds within three years.“The Education Ministry has already begun implementing the plan, with an immediate time frame,” he said. “This is a huge undertaking, a mega-project that is important in many ways.”One-third of three- and four-year-olds are already in free educational frameworks, while another third are in partially subsidized preschools, Sa’ar explained, adding that this would make it easier to put the government plan into action by September. In addition, the ministry has prepared a “fast track” for private preschools to receive licenses.Education Ministry director- general Dalit Stauber said that there will be 500 new preschool classes by next school year, and 250 more will be opened during the year. The ministry plans to open 2,500 new preschool classes and hire 2,900 teachers within four years.There is an expected shortage of 557 teachers in secular and national-religious preschools next year and 65 in Arab preschools, but none in haredi schools, Stauber added. The Education Ministry has several plans to fill the open slots, including hiring third-year education students.Sa’ar listed what he said were the many benefits of free early childhood education. First, he explained, it would lower the cost of living for young families by thousands of shekels per child, each year. In addition, if more young children are in school, their mothers will be able to take a more active role in the workforce. He also expressed hope that classes for three- and four-year-olds will increase achievements in education, citing studies by the OECD and Israeli researchers that attending preschool leads to success in school later in childhood.Union of Local Authorities chairman Nahum Hofri said that while free early childhood education is important, most municipalities cannot promise that there will be enough room in preschools for all three- and four-yearolds.Therefore, he called for parents to apply to both public and private preschools for next year.Hofri and Knesset Education Committee chairman Alex Miller (Israel Beiteinu) disagreed on the criteria for free early childhood education.According to Hofri, local authorities do not have the resources to determine which families are more in need of free education, and three- and four-year-olds will be accepted to preschool by date of birth.Miller, however, said that the purpose of the new law is to help the needy, and that local authorities must develop an acceptance key according to socioeconomic status.