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Haredi schools to teach core subjects in exchange for funding

Yesh Atid calls deal with Shas historic; education minister says ultra-Orthodox state school network in offing

An ultra-Orthodox school in Jerusalem. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
An ultra-Orthodox school in Jerusalem. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Ultra-Orthodox schools connected to the Shas political party’s education system will begin teaching students core subjects such as science and math, in exchange for continued state funding, officials said Monday night.

The deal, which is being touted as a historic reform, was agreed to by Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Education Minister Shai Piron and Shas head Aryeh Deri.

The agreement came amid ongoing discussions in the Cabinet over proposed tax hikes and ministerial funding cuts as part of the state’s 2014 budget. As of 3 a.m. Tuesday, ministers were still holding marathon discussions over the proposal in Jerusalem.

The agreement will obligate the Shas school system to implement core studies into its curriculum within six months. Haredi schools have traditionally balked at offering instruction in secular subjects, such as English, math and sciences, instead devoting resources to Jewish study.

Lapid and Piron’s Yesh Atid party characterized the deal as the first time in the history of Israel that the ultra-Orthodox school network would fall in line with the rest of the country’s education system.

Speaking to the Ynet news website, Piron said the deal would pave the way for the creation of a state-Haredi school system, which would mirror the secular and national religious tracks.

Deri said the agreement was the beginning of discussions. His opposition Shas party has come out strongly against the proposed budget, which would cut welfare entitlements that many ultra-Orthodox rely on, among other austerity measures.

The Finance Ministry is looking to cut government spending by some NIS 6.5 billion (almost $2 billion) in 2013 and by NIS 18 billion (some $5 billion) in 2014, largely through the cuts in defense, child benefits (NIS 2 billion, or $560 million) and transportation infrastructure projects (NIS 1.2 billion, or $336 million). Those measures are meant to slash a burgeoning national deficit that in 2012 reached NIS 39 billion ($11 billion), 4.2 percent of the gross domestic product.

The Finance Ministry’s budget proposal also raised value-added tax by 1 percent (to 18%), increased income tax by 1.5% across the board, and boosted corporate tax to 26%, among a series of measures.

On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said NIS 4 billion in proposed cuts to the Defense Ministry would only amount to NIS 3 billion, with the rest coming from cuts to other ministries.

Once the Cabinet passes a budget plan, it will move on to the Knesset for final approval.

Stuart Winer contributed to this report.

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