School is in, but out of cash
Hebrew media review

School is in, but out of cash

Kids return to classes after a chaotic summer, but the Education Ministry gets a major budget cut at the 11th hour

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Illustrative: Schoolchildren waiting to cross a street. (Liron Almog/Flash90)
Illustrative: Schoolchildren waiting to cross a street. (Liron Almog/Flash90)

It’s September once again, and the newspaper editors are enthusiastic about getting rid of their kids at long last and sending them back to school where they belong. After a summer cooped up in bomb shelters, there’s no small degree of celebration — by parents and children alike — that the precious little ones are out of the house.

Nearly 150,000 first graders are in the spotlight while in all, over 2 million students are heading back to school, the papers report, citing government figures. There is much talk about the discussion of the summer’s conflict in classrooms.

But beneath the pictures of beaming, gap-toothed children in brightly lit rooms, the dirty reality of budget cuts is at the fore. Haaretz, ever the stern headmaster of headlines, doesn’t fuss with the pleasantries of cutesy photos and nostalgia, leading instead with the NIS 517 million last-minute budget cut made by the cabinet to the Education Ministry. Haaretz says that the “lion’s share” of the sweeping cutbacks made to balance the cost of Operation Protective Edge were levied upon the Education Ministry and Israel’s higher education, which lost NIS 175 million in funding as well.

“War costs money, and we’ve found solidarity concerning the cuts, which took place in every government ministry,” Education Minister Shai Piron says in a lesson on math and civics, according to Yedioth Ahronoth. “In the coming days we’ll find a way to create a reality in which no program from the core curriculum is harmed.”

Not everyone is as optimistic. Officials in the Education Ministry quoted in the tabloid say that the cutbacks will inevitably affect Piron’s educational reforms, which included “improvement of infrastructure, building classrooms, adding enhancement hours and preparing training for teaching staff.” Most of the programs affected will be in 2015, however.

“It’s not clear, for example if we’ll be able to hold summer daycare next year, or realize the concept of reducing the size of classrooms,” the senior official is quoted saying.

Israel Hayom strategically buries the issue of the massive budget cut to education, making a passing reference to the issue on Page 2 and referring readers to its scant coverage of the matter on Page 13. Its brief reportage on the NIS 2 billion budget cut to all ministries — except the Defense Ministry — makes no mention that the school year that just opened amid pomp and celebration will face major money problems down the line.

Instead of hard news, it has a twee op-ed by one of its staff writers telling his first grader that mommy and daddy will always be by his side.

The paper does report, however, that schools will take an active role in combating Israel’s racism and violence problem. Israel Hayom reports that the Education Ministry has organized classes on the issues of incitement and racism for all ages, replete with discussions, workshops and conversations about freedom of expression, etc. It doesn’t say whether the budget cuts will endanger such programming, however.

Next up, Yedioth Ahronoth reports that an IDF soldier who was injured in Operation Protective Edge in Gaza succumbed to his wounds. “At least we had a month and a half to part from him,” it quotes Shachar Shalev’s parents saying. Shalev, a combat engineer in the paratroopers, was injured in an IED blast on July 23 in Khan Yunis; both his legs were amputated, and he received 1,000 blood infusions donated by Israelis. After a month-long hospitalization, doctors pronounced him dead. He’ll be laid to rest on Monday at the local cemetery in the Golan Heights.

The IDF’s Civil Administration announced Sunday that it was appropriating nearly 4,000 dunams (1,000 acres) near Bethlehem as state land in response to the murder of three Israeli teens in June, Haaretz reports. The military government’s declaration “includes broad areas west of the Etzion bloc of settlements in the direction of Jerusalem, which are intended to create territorial contiguity between the Green Line and the settlement of Beitar Illit, Kfar Etzion and Gva’ot which will effectively erase the Green Line,” the paper reports.

The downing of an unmanned aircraft over northern Israel on Sunday makes headlines in Israel Hayom, which reports that the Air Force downed the UAV with a surface-to-air Patriot missile. The UAV entered Israeli airspace near Quneitra, where fighting is taking place between Islamist rebels and Syrian Army forces.

“The IDF won’t tolerate violation of the sovereignty of the State of Israel,” the army spokesperson is quoted saying in the paper. The Israeli government didn’t deny the possibility that the drone aircraft belonged to the Assad government, or that it was dispatched to spy on Israel, not the rebels.

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