170 local council leaders say they will oppose funding private Haredi schools

Mayors from across country reject coalition agreements that would see local municipalities finance ultra-Orthodox institutions that teach as little as 55% of state curriculum

File: Ultra-Orthodox children on the first day of school in Neve Yaakov in Jerusalem, August 9, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/File)
File: Ultra-Orthodox children on the first day of school in Neve Yaakov in Jerusalem, August 9, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/File)

A group of 170 local council leaders published a strongly worded letter in recent days, protesting a clause in the new government’s coalition deals compelling the local councils to dedicate “hundreds of millions of shekels” to Haredi educational institutions that are not regulated by the Education Ministry and do not teach the complete range of secular studies currently required by the state.

“We won’t agree to benefit one population over others by circumventing the considerations of the local council,” the leaders wrote to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, and Education Minister Yoav Kisch last week, according to Hebrew media reports Sunday.

“We won’t allow the state to expropriate the authority and responsibilities of the local councils on education.”

The coalition agreements would see existing education laws broadened to allow educational institutions that are unregulated by the Education Ministry, but nonetheless recognized by that body, when they cover 55 percent of core state curriculum content to receive funding from local councils, down from the current 75% threshold required to receive funding.

The letter said that asking local councils to increase funding for these educational institutions would “contradict the basic principle of non-involvement” between the unregulated schools and local councils.

“Recognition of unregulated institutions is done by the state, and therefore it is the state that must fund these institutions,” the letter continued. “We won’t agree to impose this huge funding task on local councils, which are forced to fund their formal education services from their regular budgets.”

Modiin mayor and head of the national mayors union Haim Bibas speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv on February 19, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The council heads complained that the country already suffers from a “huge shortage of classrooms in formal educational institutions,” and that officials have to find “creative solutions in order to provide buildings” for students to study in.

Responding to the letter, United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni threatened to sever relations with the council heads in coming election cycles.

“I intend to raise the issue at tomorrow’s party meeting,” Gafni said on Sunday. “Whoever says that Haredi children do not deserve education, a budget, construction, and all the services provided to all other students — we will reconsider out partnerships with them in coming elections.”

Among those who signed the letter were the chairman of the Federation of Local Authorities, Modiin mayor Haim Bibas, Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai, Beersheba mayor Ruvik Danilovich, the mayors of Haifa, Petah Tikva, Rishon Lezion and many other towns.

Bibas previously warned, in an interview with the Haaretz daily, that if the government followed through on its coalition agreements without expanding councils’ coffers, it could cause the collapse of the entire education system.

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