21 September 2015
Arab-Israeli fourth graders pray in Aramaic in 2012 at a Catholic elementary school in Jish. Israel’s Christian schools have been on strike since 1 September. (photo: CNS/Debbie Hill)
On 1 September 2015, 45 Christian schools in Israel went on strike. Consisting of 3,000 teachers and 33,000 students, the schools are considered “unofficial but recognized” by the Israeli government. Many of the schools date to the time of the Ottoman Empire and so are considerably older than the State of Israel.
The crisis and strike have been precipitated by two decisions of the Israeli government. The first decision was to cut the government funding that the Christian schools receive. Originally the state paid 70 percent of these schools’ budgets. This has now been progressively reduced — recently to 45 percent, and now to 29 percent. (The Israeli newspaper Haaretz also notes that the similarly semi-public ultra-Orthodox schools with 220,000 students are almost totally funded by the government.)
Full funding for the schools has been estimated at $52 million a year. These schools, which accept also Muslim and Druze students, are among the most effective in Israel and it is estimated that “Christian Arabs have the highest rate of success in Israel’s Bagrut (matriculation) exams, which largely determine who is admitted to a state university.” This, despite the fact that the Israeli government spends an average of 24 percent less on each high school student who is an Israeli citizen of Palestinian descent.
The second government decision was to limit the percentage of the operating costs that the schools could charge parents as tuition. Tuition was the means by which the schools attempted to fill the gaps caused by the progressive reduction of state support. Nevertheless, the Israeli government has now limited the amount parents can pay. One Christian school administrator states that the tuition cap set by the Israeli government is 2,500 Shekels ($645) per year, half of what would be needed to make up for government cuts. Thus, the Israeli government is seen as putting a double squeeze on the Christian schools by reducing their subsidies and their abilities to cover the deficits.
Negotiations have been going on between the Office of Christian Schools and the Israeli Government since May. The government has offered full funding if the schools agree to become “official and recognized.” However, this is perceived by Christian educators as an attack on their independence and a requirement not demanded of other private schools in Israel. Msgr. Giacinto-Boulos Marcusso, the patriarchal vicar of Jerusalem, sees these actions as attempts to progressively deprive young people of their identity through “ignorance, emigration or integration into national structures, the first of which is the army.”
During the third week of September the Israeli government offered the schools a subsidy of 67 million shekels (about $17.3 million). Since the costs that need to be covered amount to about to about $52 million dollars, the Board of Christian Schools refused the offer and the strike continues.
Tags: Children Israel Education Catholic education Youth