Education Ministry Botches Rollout of Core Curriculum Offer to Haredi Boys’ Schools – Israel News – Haaretz

State offered full funding for ultra-Orthodox boys’ schools which teach English, Hebrew and math – but application process was 'unclear and distorted'
The Education Ministry announced on its website last month that it was offering a new program for ultra-Orthodox boys’ schools, in which English, Hebrew and math will be taught in exchange for full state funding. It invites schools to apply for participation in the program through the government’s Enterprise Resource Planning website, Merkava.
However, the ministry failed to enter the necessary forms for application on Merkava, which is the only way schools can sign up. Moreover, the ministry has so far not stated the amount of funding that will be granted to schools that adopt this program, known as the core curriculum.
According to the Education Ministry, all the students in institutions that sign up for the program will study English, Hebrew and math on a basic level and all the schools will receive extra funding. In the following year, the children in grades 3, 6 and 8 will be tested in the participating schools. At this point, the funding method will provide a grant of 12,000 shekels ($3,500) for each student who takes the test if at least 30 percent pass. If 60 percent of the students pass the test, the school will receive another 2,000 shekels for evert student who passes. If 90 percent pass, the school will receive another 1,500 shekels per student.
An Education Ministry official told Haaretz that the high grants, which are given in addition to the basic funding of the schools, also take into consideration the budget for the other grade levels. However, an official familiar with the details called the system “unclear and distorted.”
The Education Ministry devised the program together with figures from the Belz Hasidic sect, the second largest Hasidic sect in Israel, with the approval of the Belz rabbinic leader Yissachar Dov Rokeah. An official familiar with the details said the ministry rushed to publish the new program under pressure from various ultra-Orthodox institutions that claimed a delay would mean that the Belz Hasidic sect would not join the program.
However, the timing of the publication last month, weeks before the rosters of Knesset candidates were submitted, sparked disputes between the two movements constituting the United Torah Judaism party – the non-Hasidic Degel Hatorah and the Hasidic Agudat Yisrael. Degel Hatorah leader Rabbi Gershon Edelstein opposed the program and threatened to break up the union with Agudat Yisrael, of which Belz is a part. The dispute was over the demands by Belz to receive full funding for its institutions even though it does not currently teach the complete core curriculum.
Belz also demanded to the Hinuch Hatzma’i school system controlled by Degel Hatorah, which receives full funding, and were turned down. At present the Hasidic system is “recognized but not official,” which means the Education Ministry partially funds it because they only study part of the core curriculum.
On Monday the Belz movement, apparently satisfied with the outcome of negotiations with Degel Hatorah, backtracked on its support for the Education Ministry’s plan, and decided to remain in the UTJ fold. According to understandings reached between the non-Hasidic Degel Hatorah, led by MK Moshe Gafni, and the Hasidic Agudat Yisrael, headed by MK Yitzhak Goldknopf, the latter conditioned its entry into the governing coalition after the election, on receiving full funding for the recognized but unofficial schools, without increasing its study of the core curriculum. Now the Education Ministry will have to decide whether to continue offering the program to other schools in the ultra-Orthodox community.
The Education Ministry said in response: “The ministry has appointed a special director for implementing the project, Haim Halperin. He may be approached with any professional question. The ministry also has a dedicated phone line for schools, which can help with any difficulties they encounter.”
The ministry also said that the 70-percent additional budget mentioned in the call to schools to register is “flexible funding for the principal, who can use it for many and varied needs according to his professional considerations.” According to the ministry, 30 percent of the budget “has been defined as for the purchase of services involving the advancement of scholastic achievements in the core subjects.” The funding will cover “schoolbooks, pedagogic enrichment or professional support.”
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