The Israeli government's policies for Christian schools and unfair education budget cuts put them at risk of collapse, the Office of Christian Schools in Israel has charged.
Fr. Abdel Masih Fahim, general secretary of the Catholic Church’s Office of Christian Schools in Israel, urged the Israeli government to recognize the importance of continued Christian education in Israel. These schools are a “vital component of the Christian presence in the Holy Land,” he said in a May 23 statement.
“Christian schools in Israel are now in immediate danger of collapsing financially,” he warned.
Fr. Fahim voiced concerns to the office of the Israeli Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Education, the Minister of Social Equality and others. These concerns focused on three imminent issues.
He called on the government to fulfill immediately the transfer of 50 million shekels, about $13 million. He said the government must decide on a fixed annual sum to be paid to Christian schools to “compensate for the drastic cuts.”
He called for new legislation to “create a new status for the Christian schools that will ensure sufficient funding and take into consideration their uniqueness and long service in the land.”
The statement said that about 47 Christian school educate around 33,000 Christian, Muslims, Druze, and Jewish students around Israel. These schools are owned by various groups from the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, as well as the Anglican Church of Scotland, Christ Church, and the Baptists.
The Christian schools criticized the Israeli government, saying it drastically reduced the budget allocation for Christian schools. Over the past six years the national budget allocation for the schools has been cut by 45 percent. Furthermore, the education ministry has issued regulations to restrict the limit on the collection of school tuition fees from parents.
In September 2015 Christian schools made a continuous 27-day protest about the measures, and constraints on their ability to raise funds. The demonstrations ended after the government promised an agreement with the Christian schools, and to supply the $13 million by the end of March 2016 to compensate for budget cuts in previous years.
This promised agreement has remained unfulfilled. A special commission has been established to deliberate on proposed changes and to make recommendations for the Christian schools.
The commission recommended that the schools join the Israeli public school system, but the Christian schools have expressed their reservations about the proposal.
The commission proposals suggested an additional three hours per class be dedicated each week to “strengthen and preserve the Christian identity and the special style of living in Christian schools.”
The collection of tuition fees in Christian schools will be determined by the committee from the ministry of education.
Fr. Fahim decried the way the education department has handled these concerns, saying the recommendations do not solve the financial crisis and further force Christian institutions to join the public school system.