Study finds narrowing gap in state spending on Jewish and Arab high school students

Researchers also note differences in expenditures among Jewish students, with those in the state religious track receiving more per capita than peers in secular state institutions

Gavriel Fiske is a reporter at The Times of Israel

The entrance to the Gymnasia Rehavia high school in Jerusalem on May 31, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
The entrance to the Gymnasia Rehavia high school in Jerusalem on May 31, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

A new study has found the gap in state spending on Jewish and Arab high school students has narrowed in recent years, while the overall budget per student in Israel has increased by more than half.

In the Taub Center study, which was released Thursday, researchers analyzed Education Ministry data on high schools from 2014 to 2022. Researchers Nachum Blass and Haim Bleikh said that while “substantial differences in the expenditure per student in high school depending on the sector” remain, the “disparities in budget per student between population groups narrowed substantially” over that period.

Analyzing Israel’s three main educational tracks — secular state, state religious and Arab — the researchers found that “between 2014 and 2022, the gap between the Arab State education and the Jewish State education in average expenditure per student was halved, from 32% to 16%, and the gap between Arab State education and state-religious narrowed from 39% to 29%.”

Looking at just the two Jewish school systems found “a mixed trend,” the report noted, finding that the gap in average expenditure per student between the national religious schools and the national state schools had grown from 2014 to 2019, and then declined by 2022.

In 2022, the state expenditure per high-school student per year was NIS 44,000 ($12,000) for those in the national religious track, NIS 37,000 ($10,000) for the secular state track, and NIS 31,000 ($8,400) for the Arab sector. The study did not cover the spending in state-funded ultra-Orthodox schools.

Although the results showed that “the budget per student in state-religious education and in the Jewish state system are greater than in the Arab state education system,” the Arab state system showed a 73% increase in per student budgeting, as opposed to a 51% increase in the national religious schools and a 41% in the secular state schools.

Illustrative: Palestinian students in the playground of a local school in East Jerusalem on November 2, 2006. (Orel Cohen / Flash90)

“Although there continue to be disparities in expenditure per student between the sectors, they are narrowing consistently,” the authors said.

The researchers analyzed budget allocation data from the Education Ministry only, which they pointed to as the “main source of the differences,” and did not take into account additional funding provided by local authorities, parents and nonprofits.

The study also found “a rise in the number of teachers with a master’s degree in all sectors, particularly in the Arab education system,” along with “a greater increase in teacher seniority in the Arab education system.”

This “substantial rise of seniority levels in the Arab system,” which includes an increase in the number of teachers and staff with a master’s degree and the resulting higher salaries they command, is a contributing factor in the higher budget in that sector, the report noted.

Analyzing socioeconomic data, the researchers found in 2022 that there was a large gap between the Hebrew and the Arab education systems in the “socioeconomic composition of their students: 69% of students in the Jewish state system and 65% in the state-religious system were in the highest socioeconomic quintiles, versus only 8% of students in the Arab state education system.”

Over the 2014-2022 period, while there was an improvement in the socioeconomic levels of students in the Jewish school systems, “very little change was seen in the Arab sector,” the researchers noted.

Illustrative: Keshet high school students in Jerusalem on May 20, 2019. (Courtesy Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Blass told The Times of Israel that the study was conducted “against the background of hearing that the national religious system receives a higher budget than the others. We wanted to see if that was correct, and it was.”

He said that “over time, the differences between the three sectors we studied narrowed; they didn’t close, but they got better.”

A substantial factor in the budget gap between the sectors, “maybe 70 or 80 percent,” is due to “which groups learn certain subjects [which have a higher budget requirement], which groups have smaller classes, and which groups have more senior teachers,” not necessarily the socioeconomic status of the sector or other factors, Blass said.

The study data did not cover the current school year, where the educational system has been upended by the Israel-Hamas war, which saw the necessity of providing ad hoc and temporary educational frameworks for tens of thousands of students who were evacuated from Israel’s south and north.

“I can’t say about the current situation. If there weren’t a war… well of course there were changes, but I don’t see a reason for important differences” in terms of high school budgets, Blass noted.

All in all, the report “shows without a doubt that when there is the desire and determination on the part of government — and the Education Ministry acts to follow that policy, they have the tools to effect a change,” Blass wrote in the official announcement.

The Education Ministry declined to comment on the study.

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