Differential budgeting will not be sufficient for the periphery

In order to narrow the social gaps in Israel, differential budgeting in education is a necessary step – but not sufficient in itself.

THE TEL AVIV skyline (photo credit: REUTERS)
THE TEL AVIV skyline
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Early elections strongly impacted the very basis for a large portion of the reforms announced by former education minister Shai Piron.
Included among them is the program for differential budgeting in education that primarily allocates an additional NIS 250 million for core curriculum studies in elementary schools in the periphery. Even if the program is implemented, it is incapable of remedying the gaps resulting from many years of insufficient budgeting. This is especially so since the decision for the program was made during a year when the Education Ministry also cut back about NIS 400m. from the same population by reducing the implementation of the Trajtenberg Committee recommendations (the Tsilah Program).
The program for differential budgeting that focuses on enrichment in core subjects in the periphery is an essential step for bridging the gaps, but it also requires extensive reform and a broad perspective on all the needs of elementary schools in the periphery. According to research conducted by the Milken Institute in 2012, the expenditure for education in the communities of the strong socio-economic cluster in Israel is 20 times greater than in the weakest cluster. Although the two top deciles include only 2.2 percent of the students, they benefit from 7% of the expenditure on education. These gaps are actually greater – sometimes substantially, when considering what parents also provide for their children (such as psycho-educational assessment and private tutoring).
While the gaps in achievement in the core subjects are addressed by the reform and certainly require consideration and change, additional areas need much more attention. Thus, many children in the periphery with learning disabilities or emotional difficulties remain without a response, resulting in an ongoing daily obstacle to success in school. In addition, students in the periphery are affected by the gaps in accessibility to informal enrichment and recreational activities.
Students in the geographic and social periphery suffer from ongoing gaps that are evidenced each year by indicators such as the Meitzav achievement exams. Most serious is the challenge for students who have difficulties at school in the periphery and thus suffer from a double gap: first, the gap between the schools in the periphery and the stronger schools in the center of the country; and second, the gap between these students and others in the periphery who do not have difficulties at school. Therefore, without providing a response to these gaps, the students who have difficulties at school will remain behind – and the differential budgeting changes almost nothing in their lives.
In order to ensure that the differential budgeting is effective, much more substantial resources must be channeled to offering a comprehensive supportive framework for students in the periphery, not only in elementary schools but also in middle and high schools. Such support will respond to individual needs such as emotional assistance provided by a psychologist, additional quality hours of individual and group instruction, increased investment in assessment of learning disabilities, provision of warm meals in schools, and personal and family counseling for students and their parents as necessary. Providing responses such as these will improve the entry level qualifications for all the students in the periphery and promote equal opportunities.
In order to narrow the social gaps in Israel, differential budgeting in education is a necessary step – but not sufficient in itself. Hopefully, the next government will lead a broad and all-inclusive reform that incorporates individualized and broad personal services as a basis for advancement of equal opportunities among the students in the periphery.
The author is director of the Revadim Initiative of the Association for Change in Education, established by the Rashi Foundation.