Subsidized daycare centers in Israel threatened on Sunday to remain closed during the upcoming school year, accusing the state of “neglecting preschool education for years.”
State-regulated daycare services in Israel are intended for children aged 3 months to 3 years. They are operated by non-profit organizations under government supervision and subsidized by the state. Parents contribute a monthly sum determined by their income, usually around NIS 1,000 to 2,000 ($290-580). As space is usually limited, parents at a lower socioeconomic level are prioritized.
“We’ve been saying for a long time that we’re in distress and won’t be able to continue operating the daycare centers,” said Hagit Peer, chairwoman of Na’amat — one of the leading organizations that operates state-regulated daycares in Israel — at a Sunday press conference held by the nonprofit groups that operate subsidized daycares.
The operating groups warned they would not be able to begin the school year on September 1 due to “serious staffing shortages” and a recent recommendation by Finance Ministry to reduce government subsidies for daycare centers, which would require charging parents higher fees.
“We should ask parents what happened this year when classrooms were being closed one after another. We should ask the tens of thousands of parents who are notified every day of another daycare center, of another classroom, that was shut down because we have no staff,” Peer said. “That’s why we won’t be able to open on September 1.”
“This situation has a solution,” Peer insisted. “I know this issue is close to [Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman’s] heart — come, solve it. This can be solved right here and right now.”
Earlier Sunday, Arnon Ben-David, head of the Histadrut labor union, issued a public call to Prime Minister Yair Lapid to address the situation. “Ten thousand toddlers will be left without a daycare center this year,” he warned.
Taking the microphone after Peer, Liora Minka, chairwoman of Emunah, an organization that advocates for women’s rights and focuses on education and social welfare, said hundreds of daycare centers had already closed and hundreds more will be forced to follow suit if the situation does not change before September.
“Thousands of children won’t be able to attend daycare centers and their parents won’t be able to leave home for work,” she added, calling on the government to match the salaries of daycare teachers to that of their counterparts in municipal-run kindergartens, which she said stood at a NIS 1,500 gap.
She lamented the financial burden placed on daycare centers, but argued that parents should not be the ones to pay the price.
“They speak about the cost of living and then hurt the population that is in a very challenging and difficult situation,” she said. “We need a responsible adult here. We call on the finance minister to provide real solutions by September 1.”
In May, the Finance Ministry’s Price Committee, which had not convened in nearly a decade, advised raising the monthly price of regulated daycare centers for infants up to the age of 12 months by at least NIS 120-170, and more if a large number of new care providers are hired this year.
Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton has said she would not support the measure, urging the finance minister to find a way to subsidize the necessary increase.
However, it is seen as unlikely that Liberman will agree to any significant steps during the current election period.
Intervening in a dispute between the ministry and Israel’s Teachers Union last month, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara instructed Treasury officials to hold negotiations with a limited budget, so as not to constrict the next government.
According to a State Comptroller’s Report published earlier this month, some 147,400 children under age of 3 in Israel attend subsidized daycare centers, about 27% of all those in that age group. Most of them come from families with financial difficulties.
For these households, any price increase could prove devastating, as inflation-linked price hikes have already affected numerous other basic commodities including food prices, electricity and gas.