Tamir's costly proposal

Needless to stress, all taxpayers already foot the educational system's bills, a major slice of the national budget.

Yuli Tamir 88 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Yuli Tamir 88 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
With predictable seasonal regularity, the thorny issue of the payments that parents are requested to make to augment school budgets resurfaces each summer and fall. This year is no exception. The only difference is that Education Minister Yuli Tamir has offered a detailed proposal to supposedly rid us of this predicament once and for all. At first glance, Tamir's plan seems equitable and well-intentioned. But its superficial fairness is misleading. Tamir aims to discontinue all of the payments that schools routinely demand of parents. That would be good news indeed, had Tamir not substituted informal direct remittances to schools by formal taxation via the National Insurance Institute. Tamir's carrot is that her projected payments would be progressive, based on each family's income. As things stand today, schools cannot oblige families without the necessary financial resources to shell out funds, but securing exemption often entails humiliation. Pupils or parents must come forward and plead poverty, whereupon they are often subjected to embarrassing scrutiny and invasion of privacy. Failure to pay often results in youngsters being barred from extracurricular activities such as class outings (though this is officially forbidden). Likewise, although school payments cannot, theoretically, exceed certain legal limits, these limits are often brazenly ignored by schools. Tamir is right that this situation has to change. However, rather than enforce present legislative constraints or rid the system of this travesty altogether, she recommends an alternative, which, she claims, would take more from the rich, less from the poor and, in all, raise more funds than currently. There would be 10 income categories. The highest earners would fork over NIS 1,740 per elementary school child per month, NIS 2,868 for each middle-school pupil and NIS 3,147 per high-school student. At the lowest rung of the socioeconomic ladder, parents would be charged a flat rate of NIS 284 per month for each child in any educational framework. The hype notwithstanding, this still leaves a relatively heavy burden on poor parents (who may have the most children), while the imposition on the middle classes remains intolerable. The involvement of the NII - an institution that exists for purposes quite distinct from education - intensifies misgivings. Most cogent is the health system's experience. In decades past, Israelis paid sick-fund dues straight to their particular Kupat Holim. With the exception of the Histadrut's sick fund, mismanaged to near-insolvency, the system worked well enough to become the envy of many countries. When fees began being funneled through the NII, though, they didn't go to the payer's own sick fund. Flourishing funds were soon reduced to beggary vis- -vis the authorities, and medications and treatments previously covered by basic dues now cost extra. Exorbitant supplemental health insurance has become indispensable. We end up paying far more for less. The same fate now threatens parents over schooling. The fear is that a substantial proportion of the payments the NII exacts will go down its infamous bureaucratic sinkhole. Schools will then have to solicit yet more parental participation for any special projects or improvements. What each school receives from the NII, and how it spends it, would be centrally determined. In other words, the payments made by the parents of each school won't necessary come back to that school. As with supplemental health insurance, parents would be pressured for supplemental school "contributions." Needless to stress, all taxpayers already foot the educational system's bills, a major slice of the national budget. The new tax, whose dimensions may swell, would be superimposed on what's already paid. This ill-conceived imposition shatters the already discredited fa ade of free education. Rather than disingenuously and inefficiently attempting to maintain the pretense, it is long past time for the Education Ministry to consider formally sanctioning what already exists in the haredi sector, private schooling.