Christian schools in Israel that say they face financial collapse over the state’s failure to make good on a funding pledge could be saved by the intervention of Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel, The Times of Israel has learned.
The network of 47 schools, which are almost all Catholic and cater to some 33,000 mostly Muslim children, took strike action at the start of the current school year last September over budget cuts that officials said amounted to hundreds of millions of shekels. And now the massive grant promised by the Education Ministry in order to end the strike is three months overdue.
The pope himself took note of the row, raising it with President Reuven Rivlin when he visited the Vatican last September.
The strike ended when the Education Ministry agreed to pay a one-time allowance of NIS 50 million (approximately $12 million) to the school system, which is considered “unofficial but recognized,” and agreed to form a committee to explore long-term solutions to the budgetary crisis. That panel became known as the Shoshani Committee.
Army Radio reported Wednesday that the Education Ministry is currently considering the findings of the Shoshani Committee, which recommended folding the Christian network into Israel’s public school system. Such a move would allow the schools to be completely funded by the government, while also keeping their unique religious character.
Under the original deal struck a year ago, the Education Ministry was supposed to transfer the NIS 50 million to the Social Equality Ministry, which would then ensure it was disbursed to the various schools in the network.
But a government official also told The Times of Israel that despite the pledge, the Education Ministry is now declining to hand over the grant on the grounds that the schools are unrecognized institutions that fall outside of their purview.
Social Equality Ministry spokesman Tal Nahum said that Minister Gila Gamliel (Likud) decided to take matters into her own hands.
The Social Equality Ministry will soon allow institutions that meet certain requirements to request grant money from the government. The Christian schools will be able to claim the entire NIS 50 million through this system.
“This is just another way to help the schools,” said Nahum, who noted the NIS 50 million had already been earmarked. “No one is reinventing the wheel,” he added.
Nahum said Gamliel, who had mediated during the strike last year, is stepping in because she believes the schools “deserve this money.”
The Times of Israel has not received a response from either the education or finance ministries as to why the money was not allocated to the schools.