Christian Schools in Israel in Danger
Christian educational institutions began in this country more than 400 years ago and they have been serving citizens throughout the country continuously.
There are approximately 50 educational institutions that belong to the Christian Church. They are affiliated with the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches. They serve all ages - from nursery to primary school to secondary school. The total number of students is 30,000 students from all segments and groups in the country, regardless of their religious or political affiliations.
The level of education and learning in these schools is very high and they have provided their graduates from the Christian community and the general public with the tools to be positive and productive and law abiding citizens.
The buildings and facilities of these schools have been built on church and monastery lands through funding and donations from individuals and the international Christian churches and organizations. The church and the different institutions have maintained these buildings and developed them through the years on their own expenses. By this, the church has performed the duty that was laid upon the state to secure education for all its citizens.
The Christian Schools are in a special category of the ministry of education called “recognized but not official” where the Ministry of Education only supports Christian primary schools for 60% to 75% of basic hours in comparison to the basic hours granted to the public primary schools. This support does not take into account other factors and the different hours that these schools provide for the students’ benefit.
The incomes from the ministry of education together with tuition have allowed the schools to operate thus far.
However and over the last several years the Ministry of Education has taken unilateral steps that have hurt the Christian schools and their independence.
The Ministry of Education has performed cuts in the supporting budgets that undergird the Christian schools, especially Primary schools (Grades 1- 8) through cuts in support over the last 5 years by an average of 35%!
These budget cuts combined with the rise in school expenses due to the Ministry of Education’s requirements, inflation, the increase in the cost of electricity and water and other items have caused a severe problem.
The mentioned cutes have unfortunately increased the financial burden on the parents and on the churches and different institutions that have covered the deficit.
About a year ago, the Ministry of Education released special regulations regarding tuition in all the “recognized but not official” schools that the specific group of Christian schools is a part of. According to these regulations the Christian schools will be restricted with the total sum that the will be allowed to collect from the parents in the different sections of schools but especially in the Primary school. For example: a school with 1000 students will have an additional 2 Million Shekel (about 500,000 Dollars) deficit ever year due to these regulations.
After protests on these measures, the Christian schools threated not to open the school year in the 1st of September 2014. However, before this was materialized, the general director of the ministry of education called for a meeting with the Christian schools and the strike was put on hold. Such meeting was held in September 2014. In this meeting the parties decided to freeze these regulations temporally and start negotiations as to the status of the Christian schools in relation to the ministry of education.
After several meetings between the committee of Christian schools and high officials in the ministry of educations – the picture is somewhat clearer:
The ministry of education suggests that the Christian schools be moved to a new category of “Christian public schools”. This proposed change will have wide implication on the control of these schools. The control will be shifted in the issues of appointing teachers, appointing principals and accepting new students from the schools themselves to the ministry of education. In addition – the proposal states that the schools’ premises will be rented to the ministry of education that will run the schools and even use the premises in other times (afternoons or in vacation time) for public use for the general community. This is highly problematic in cases where there is not division or distinction between the school and the church or monastery – that all reside in one premise.
The other options are:
1- The Christian schools stay in the same category that they are in today but be restricted in the tuition they will be able to collect as mentioned above. In such a case- they will need to cut drastically in their operation- causing great harm to the level of education or alternatively getting subsidy to cover the possible deficit from other sources.
2- Become totally Private schools without any funding and depending entirely on the tuition and other external sources to cover the cost. Due to the relatively low socio economic status of most the population we serve, therefore just a small minority of them will be able to lift the burden of the high tuition that will be collected in such a case (approximately 15000 Shekel annually for every student) in order that we stay in the same academic standard.
We consider the behavior and decisions of the Ministry of Education as contradictory to Israeli law and contradictory to the agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel as well as special agreements with the different Christian schools. This behavior limits the rights of the Christian Church to manage its institutions in the country.
Christian education in the country is the basis for the Christian identity in the land of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are put in a serious critical challenge- either to close down because parents will not be able to pay the full tuition as we cease to get the government funds. The other option will be that we yield to the ministry of education that will take over our schools and thus risk not only our schools but our whole identity and message.
We would ask that you approach the ministry of education and demand that these regulations be put out of effect and bring back the level of funding to the level 10 years ago. Through that we will be able to keep the autonomy of our schools and our reference as it has been since the establishment of Israel.
Ministry of Education's general director Mrs. Mikhal Cohen email is : firstname.lastname@example.org
*Botrus Mansour is the general director of Nazareth Baptist School that exists since 1936. Mr.Mansour is a member in the Christian school's comittee that negotiates with the ministry of education.