The Knesset`s Education, Culture, and Sports Committee held a special meeting on Sunday due to the ongoing strike waged by Christian schools throughout the country over what they refer to as discriminatory funding cuts.
Committee chairman MK Yakov Margi (Shas) opened the meeting by saying that ”as someone who comes from the [ultra-Orthodox education system], I was angered by the fact that a child whose parents decided to educate him in the recognized but unofficial education system should be funded less than a child who studies in the state`s education system.”
Abdullah Khatib, Director of Arab Education in the Ministry of Education, said the Ministry`s proposals for resolving the crisis have all been rejected by the Christian schools. According to him, the most recent proposal called for allocating NIS 50 million to the schools as a one-time budget for 2015-2016. It also called for establishing a joint committee to settle the remaining disagreements.
Awani Batchish, a principal at one of the church schools, said students at these schools receive only 29% of the budget students in the official education system receive. ”This cannot continue,” he said, adding that he was in favor of strengthening all educational institutions. ”I am a principal and a father, and we want to resume studies, but we cannot do so with what has been proposed to us. We want to regulate the status of our schools once and for all and not fight every year over budget cuts.”
All 47 church schools have been striking since September 1 to protest years of what they say are discriminatory – and crippling – budget cuts. The 47 institutions, serving 33,000 students, including some Muslims and Druze, are “unofficially recognized.” Such schools are supposed to get 75 percent of the funding that state schools receive. They typically supplement their financing with tuition fees and fundraising.
The Christian schools claim the state started slashing their funding six years ago and that by 2013, they say, their funding was down to just 34 percent. This school year it was 29 percent, leaving them with a serious shortfall. On top of that, the Education Ministry capped the fees they could charge.
MK Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Camp) said ”33,000 students, and another 3,000 teachers, are simply transparent. If the Finance Minister found the money to lower the cost of beer, he should find the money to budget 33,000 children who are sitting at home – that`s a bit more important.”
MK Yousef Jabareen of the Joint Arab List claimed that even if only one school in the predominantly Jewish town of Nazareth Illit would have gone on strike, the budget would have been found within days. However, MK Margi reminded Jabareen that children in Kochav Yair are also striking over the lack of a high school in the town.
Ran Erez, chairman of the Secondary School Teachers Association, said the association has decided to join the strike as a sign of solidarity. According to him, the church schools are in a dire situation and the teachers are the first to suffer.
MK Basel Ghattas (Joint Arab List) said the question was whether there are different ”educational baskets” for students in Israel. According to him, the educational basket of a student attending a state school in Nazareth is worth 50 percent less than that of a student in any other state school. ”In light of the disgraceful proposals, we are heading towards an escalation of the struggle,” he told the meeting. ”The heads of Arab municipal councils are scheduled to meet this afternoon and declare a strike in all the municipalities.”
MK Sofa Landver (Yisrael Beitenu) said, ”If the situation is so good, as the Finance and Education ministries claim, then why is the strike still on?”
During the meeting, Hifa Fayiz, a student at one of the church schools, read aloud from a letter she had written to Education Minister Naftali Bennett. ”I am writing to you in the hope that after you read this you will think of me and the 33,000 students who stayed home. You are the education minister of all of us, so why did everybody begin the school year and only we have been at home for three weeks? Do you know how we feel? How a student feels when he sees his friends go to school while he doesn`t? We will say out loud: `We want equality`.”
MK Anat Berko (Likud) said the struggle should not be conducted at the expense of the students and called on the schools to accept the suggestion to set up a joint committee that will deal with the regulation of Christian schools in the country. ”This is a worthy struggle for equality, and it is important to protect this educational island from the things that harm it,” she stated.
MK Merav Michaeli (Zionist Camp) accused the Education Ministry of discrimination and urged the Education Committee to demand that the government introduce a ”worthy” proposal. ”Every student deserves equality,” she said.
MK Hanin Zoabi (Joint Arab List) said that unrecognized Jewish educational institutions are permitted to increase their budgets through tuition fees, while other institutions are not permitted to do so. MK Zouheir Bahloul (Zionist Camp) said pressure is being applied on the church schools so that they will join the official educational track.
Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, the Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, said Israel has the best education-related legislation he knows, but it is not implemented equally. ”Christianity was born here, and we have the best schools in Israel, since the 17th century, and we still comply with all the Education Ministry`s demands. We want to create better people for society,” he told the committee.
MK Margi concluded the meeting by saying that the committee will hold another meeting on Monday during which the position of the parents will be heard. He said he hoped the strike would end soon to the satisfaction of all sides involved.