9th August 2015
Opening of the School Year for Christian Schools in Israel at Risk
The General Secretariat of the Christian Schools in Israel announces with deep concern that the opening of the school year in all Christian schools in the country is at risk. This is due to the large cuts made by the Ministry of Education in the budgets of these schools and the regulations that restrict their power to collect tuition. This has put the Christian schools in Israel in a serious dilemma to either change to another category of schools which would allow them to collect larger amounts from the parents for tuition, or to accept becoming “Public schools” and thus lose their Christian identity and mission.
The General Secretariat for Christian schools sent a letter 6 weeks ago to the Minister of Education, Mr. Naftali Bennett, but has not received any response. The Secretariat also addressed the president of State, Mr. Reuven Rivlen, asking for his intervention to resolve the crisis, especially since it has the potential of causing a diplomatic crisis between Israel and the Vatican. The Christian world is following this crisis with deep concern. The Vatican, in addition to the heads of churches, covenants, and international organizations in Germany, England, Scotland, France and the United States have all expressed their deep concern about the future of these schools. President Rivlen has responded to our call and appointed a meeting with the Minister of Education and the representatives of the Christian schools to be held with him in his residence the last week of this month, in an attempt to resolve the crisis. In the absence of a solution, the Christian schools will not open their doors on the first of September, and the scenario will be one of crisis within the Christian world.
It is worth noting that there is a diplomatic agreement (Fundamental Agreement) between the Vatican and the State of Israel since 1993 in which the State of Israel has vowed not to change the status quo of all church institutions until there is a final agreement between the two countries. Although the negotiations on the final status are still ongoing between the two countries, the State of Israel has breached this clause of the agreement by taking unilateral steps against the Christian schools.
This crisis has deepened as a result of the extensive cuts taken by the Ministry of Education in the last six years which are now at approximately 45%. These cuts added to the financial burden of the parents because the schools were forced to raise tuition in order to balance their budgets. The schools’ administrations and owners strongly oppose this unfair policy that increases the burden on the parents, and demand the Ministry to stop it.
According to the Research Institute of the Knesset, a student at a Christian school receives support equivalent to only 34% of what any other student in public school receives (even before the recent cuts two years ago). Therefore, the Ministry's claim that their support ranges from 65% to 75 % is totally incorrect and misleading. We would like to mention that our schools are denied and prohibited from joining the new reform program “Ofek Hadash” – (New Horizon) despite persistent demands. It is bewildering that the Minister of Education announced his plans last week to reduce the number of pupils in every class to a maximum of 32-34 pupils and again our schools were excluded from this project.
These steps are of concern to us because of their dangerous side effects on the level of our schools. We are bewildered by the Ministry of Education’s exclusion of our pupils from receiving educational rights which are guaranteed by the law, when they are supposed to be operating as custodians of these laws. We reject making our pupils the victims of this policy.
The recent coalition agreements signed with the Jewish religious parties and their schools fall under the same legal definition as our schools "recognized unofficial", and ensure them of additional budgets of hundreds of millions of shekels. This has occurred despite the fact that the State covers all of their expenses, such as construction, maintenance etc., which deepens the gap and increases the blatant discrimination against our schools. We are not against any step to ensure the development of the educational process at any point and at any site, but we demand to be included as it includes others.
Our request to the Minister is clear and explicit: We want equality of budgets to ensure and reduce the burden on the parents, just like the public or Jewish religious schools.
The General Secretariat of Christian schools has held talks with representatives of the Ministry of Education for eight months, but unfortunately has reached a dead end. This is due to the fact that the Ministry’s main goal is to convert these schools to public schools, essentially confiscating these schools from their owners.
About 33,000 pupils study in Christian schools in Israel and they come from all segments of society and religions. The majority of these schools existed before the establishment of the State of Israel and some of them for hundreds of years. These schools were built on church properties and by donations from churches and Christian organizations from outside the country.
The closure of Christian schools means that 56% of the pupils in Nazareth and 70% of the Arab pupils in Haifa, and many other villages from Jish in the north to Jaffa-Tel Aviv and Ramla in the south, will remain without educational structures if the ministry will not respond to our fair requests. This affects children across the country from those just beginning school to the those in the 12th grade.
We are sorry that things have reached this level. We address the parents with deep sorrow and grief declaring that our schools, in their current situation, and if the continuous injustice of recent years continues, won’t be able to open their doors on the first of September. However, we hold the Ministry of Education and the government fully responsible. They have done nothing to put an end to this injustice and we call on them to find a just solution for these pupils and find them educational frameworks.
Therefore, we appeal to you dear parents, to address the local authorities in your villages and towns and secure an alternative educational option for your children in case our schools will not be able to open their doors.
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