Knesset rolls back Haredi secular studies requirement
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Knesset rolls back Haredi secular studies requirement

Lawmakers remove threat of budget cuts to schools that fail to teach math, English and sciences

Orthodox school girls looking at posters in Beit Shemesh in June 2014. (photo credit: Yaakov Lederman/FLASH90)
Orthodox school girls looking at posters in Beit Shemesh in June 2014. (photo credit: Yaakov Lederman/FLASH90)

The Knesset overnight Monday approved a bill countermanding a law that, beginning in 2018, would have reduced funding for ultra-Orthodox schools that do not devote a minimum number of weekly hours to core secular subjects such as math, English, and science.

The adjustment bill passed a second and third reading with a vote of 41 to 28 in favor.

The original law, sponsored by the Yesh Atid party in 2013, would have slashed state funding for some Haredi institutions from the current 55 percent of the sum received by Israeli schools that do comply with the core curriculum, to 35%.

Instead of requiring the Haredi schools to teach 10 to 11 hours per week of secular studies, as the Yesh Atid law stipulated, the new bill gives Education Minister Naftali Bennett the discretion to fund those institutions.

In their coalition agreements following the 2015 elections, the ultra-Orthodox parties demanded the curriculum law be dropped.

Yesh Atid said in response to the vote that “the Israeli government has sold our children’s future and taken from an entire generation the ability to support themselves.

Education Minister Nafatli Bennett seen in the Knesset plenum, August 1, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Education Minister Nafatli Bennett seen in the Knesset plenum, August 1, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“It would be one thing if they didn’t understand the damage they have done, but anyone who sits in this government understands that he has stolen from the children of Israel the basic tools to integrate into the employment market and make a living,” the party, now in the opposition, said in a statement. “And yet they supported the law, because quite simply it doesn’t bother them. All that interests them is politics. In their quest to hold on to their seats, everything is permitted — even selling out the children of Israel.”

But Yesh Atid leader MK Yair Lapid, adopted a more conciliatory tone in a plenum speech last week, even with the Knesset set to roll back one of the last reforms remaining from his tenure as finance minister.

“We don’t need to fight. This issue of math and English studies, unlike the equality of the burden [IDF enlistment of the ultra-Orthodox] and other issues raised here, affects only a small number of people in your community,” he said, addressing Haredi lawmakers.

Yesh Atid party chairman, Yair Lapid, speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, June 27, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Yesh Atid party chairman, Yair Lapid, speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, June 27, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Earlier this month the cabinet and Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved the move.

In an about-face by Bennett, who had supported the Yesh Atid law, the Education Ministry last week submitted the amended legislation to the Knesset for a vote.

The Yesh Atid curriculum law was set to affect 40,000-50,000 of Israel’s 440,000 ultra-Orthodox students (approximately 1.8 percent of all Israeli students) who study in schools that teach less than 10-11 hours per week of math, English and other subjects required by the ministry.

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