Please note: The following is a synopsis of ZEHUT’s platform on education. To read the entire platform on education, click here.
Responsibility of Parents
“The father must teach his son … Torah … and a trade”
Zehut advocates providing maximum liberty to citizens to make choices in their lives and to take responsibility for their choices, while minimizing the involvement and interference of the state in civil life as much as possible. This principle also holds regarding the education of our children.
The education system affects our lives and the lives of our children from every possible perspective: From values and culture to the economic, social, national, and political realms.
Zehut believes that the parent, more than any other person or entity, wants the best for his children, and knows what the best interests of his children are – better than a bureaucratic-governmental system.
Zehut believes that restoring responsibility and control over children’s education to their parents will greatly improve the level of education compared with the situation today. It will improve their achievements, will allow each parent to educate the child in accordance with the child’s abilities and inclinations, and according to the worldview of the parents.
Unknown to most, according to current law, the party responsible for the education of our children is the Education Minister and not we – the parents. Another thing that most do not know is that national spending on education is now 86 billion shekels a year and that this is actually the largest national expenditure when compared to all other budget items. The percentage of Israel’s investment in education is high in comparison with other developed countries, but in the PISA tests, Israeli pupils ranked at the bottom quarter of the table summarizing academic results of children from developed countries. Even if we don’t include overhead in the calculation of the budget, we are still talking about an enormous budget by any standard. We can provide our children with a much better education if responsibility is restored to the parents.
The Voucher System
The voucher system combines public funding and free competition. Each parent will receive a voucher from the Education Ministry with a monetary value, which he will be able to redeem at any school he likes, financing the studies of his children. Schools will have to attract students by convincing parents that their school in particular offers a quality academic program and excellent teachers. In this system, the Education Ministry will not dictate curricula or management to schools. Instead, it will open the market to competition between schools. The principal will be able to truly run the school, and not be dependent on countless complex systems.
As a result of the competition that will be created between schools and education networks, a wide variety of schools will be created, and the general level will rise, as always happens when a market is opened to competition. The money saved will be available to provide services to students (e.g., for teachers, guest lecturers, school improvements). A similar process occurred in Scandinavia (Sweden, Finland), where this method has been tried.
The voucher method has many advantages. It is part of a broader worldview that advocates reducing the involvement of the state in citizens’ lives, while providing maximum freedom for the citizen to make choices and take responsibility
Zehut recommends enacting a voucher system in parallel with the current public system. Our expectation is that over the years, the higher quality of schools accepting vouchers will cause a growing number of parents to remove their children from the public schools, which will encourage the public system to renew itself and join the voucher system in one form or another.
What is Money Spent on Today?
According to the Ministry of Finance and CBS for 2012 (the latest year during which detailed data on the separation of education expenditures by type and by age groups was published), the total expenditure on education in Israel stood at 78.2 billion shekels, distributed as follows:
- General Administration – 2.1 billion.
- Preschool – 7.5 billion.
- Elementary – 25.2 billion.
- Primary – 19.8 billion.
- Universities – 10.1 billion.
- Other post-secondary – 7.7 billion.
- Textbooks and writing implements purchased by parents – 0.8 billion.
- “Investments and capital transfers” – 4.9 billion.
To illustrate the idea of vouchers, we will focus on the formal education system, from kindergarten through twelfth grade, which had about 2 million students in 2012. Deducting fixed expenses for building classrooms and other assets, we are left with a “modest” annual budget of no less than 60.4 billion shekels.
And indeed, the continuing costs (excluding buildings) of educating two million Israeli children from age 3 to age 18 was 60.4 billion, and the annual current expenditure per student was therefore 29,700 shekels. Dividing the annual amount per student by 12 months gives us a monthly sum of 2,483 shekels per student per month.
How Would a School Look Under the Voucher System?
According to the proposed system, the Education Ministry would still exist, but its powers and mechanisms would be reduced. Almost all the current amount of education expenditure from public funds would be transferred directly to the educational institutions themselves, proportional to the number of students enrolled. . Most of this amount will be used for the payment of teachers’ salaries, and the rest for continuing expenses (electricity, water, maintenance), central purchase of textbooks, and educational services such as: trips to museums and theaters, providing psychological support to students who need it, development and maintenance of infrastructure, and so on. In other words, the money of the education budget will go directly to the education of students and not to funding mechanisms, as is the case today.
It Already Works in Israel
The voucher system is already in use in Israel today. A number of years ago, maternity wards in Israeli hospitals looked like standard dormitories, or worse. The National Insurance Institute decided to allow expectant mothers to decide where they want to give birth, and to direct the childbirth budget to the selected hospitals (about 13,000 shekels per birth).
In other words, the mother receives a sort of voucher, redeemed at the hospital where she chooses to give birth. As a result, hospitals have begun to compete for expectant mothers, and maternity wards have become “five-star hotels.”
The Option of Empowering Education Networks
One of the concerns of opponents of the voucher system is over-hasty construction of innovative schools that are liable to collapse, which would be detrimental to their students and the educational process. This concern is not necessarily well-founded, because parental responsibility and market forces are likely to balance the system well and quickly.
However, in order to give support and stability to the schools, we should consider a model in which education networks will buffer between the state and schools. Instead of the state maintaining an office for every segment of the public based on pressure groups in the government and the Education Ministry, the public will choose (through the schools) the network that is appropriate to its values and which is reliable and useful for them. The network will help with the infrastructure needs of schools, such as purchase and management of equipment, textbooks and curricula, teacher recruitment, along with effective management and payment of wages.
In this model, the Education Ministry will approve networks according to minimum criteria (see the next paragraph on reducing core requirements), and the networks will be responsible for the legality of curricula and proper management of their schools.
Another advantage to developing education networks is strengthening the moral dimension in education. One of the countries that has implemented the voucher system since the 1990s is Sweden. After the system had been working for two decades, there were claims of moral deterioration in the graduates of the voucher schools. It is here that the networks will provide their broad experience and encourage the construction and operation of value-based educational infrastructure in schools.
Vouchers and Networks
In the framework of the networking model, in order to create competitiveness and efficiency in the networks, each school will receive a school voucher (the value determined by the number of students and other criteria), that it will be able to grant to the network of its choice in exchange for the services and sponsorship of that network. A school wishing to work independently will have to fulfill the core criteria, as well as other criteria that a network would otherwise ensure.
Reducing Core Requirements
Today, the public discourse is rife with references to “core curriculum,” especially in the context of the clash with the ultra-Orthodox public education system. In fact, a closer look reveals that, on a surface level, core curriculum is generally implemented. There are seven compulsory subjects that make up the core curriculum: citizenship, English, history, mathematics, literature, Hebrew, and Bible. These subjects are supposed to provide a uniform standard for all graduates of the formal education system in Israel, but in practice, every segment of the population establishes its own standard for graduation and teaches its own version of these subjects (one history for state schools, one for religious state schools, one for the ultra-Orthodox, one for the Arabs, and so on). Zehut will reduce the core curriculum considerably to only those subjects needed in order to be a graduate with the ability to function properly in Israeli society. History, literature and Bible are very important, and every parent who chooses to teach these subjects to his children is blessed, but there is no reason to withhold funding from a parent who chooses a school that does not teach them. Moreover, we will reduce the requirements in the vital core curriculum subjects of Hebrew, math and English to the bare minimum, which will allow for more innovation in networks and schools, in order to get a more professional and competitive product.
The Course of the School Year
Giving schools the freedom to act will open a healthy competition in many areas. A simple but significant example is the length of vacations and the number of vacation days per year. For example, in 2012, the number of vacation days observed by elementary schools in the state system that are not official holidays comes to 66 days, compared with an average of 55 in OECD countries. In this area, the voucher system would lead to a situation similar to that in most U.S. states, where the school board determines the holidays (aside from official holidays) autonomously, and can dovetail with the number of vacation days in the workplace.
The Start of the Academic Year
Currently, the school year begins on the first of September, often just a few days before the Jewish New Year holiday season. Jewish holidays require multiple vacation days at the beginning of the year. Since Israel’s workplaces are on vacation on Jewish holidays, an absurd situation is created where the vacation calendars of children and their parents are not coordinated. This also hampers the ability of the teachers to properly prepare the students for the upcoming High Holidays.
Zehut will set the beginning of the school year according to the Jewish calendar on the first day of Elul, both as a moral statement of pride in Jewish heritage values, and as an answer to the logistical problems of mixing calendars.
More Professional, Less Mandatory
Today, the Compulsory Education Law applies from age 3 until the end of the twelfth grade. Graduates of the education system should have sufficient knowledge and skills to become independent citizens capable of supporting themselves with dignity. Unfortunately, many who complete their school years and even those who matriculate are unable to find decent employment, diplomas notwithstanding. The reason for this is that the matriculation certificate has gone from being a certificate of graduation from the educational system, to an entrance ticket to higher academic education. But not every graduate is suited to and interested in academic learning, and the state has thus imposed on the student many years of professional stagnation without any proper justification, and without him having any say in the matter.
Zehut will work on two levels: on the one hand ending compulsory education at the end of tenth grade, which is long enough to undergo a process of significant education, without compromising the ability of professional advancement for those not interested in academia. On the other hand, the Education Ministry and educational networks will establish an educational system directed towards the development of those students who will continue their studies towards their future as independent adults. One track will be the establishment of pre-academic introductory courses in which students will study courses on an introductory academic level, and may be admitted to university based on their achievements in these courses. This method will reduce both the need for matriculation exams, which has become a very problematic assessment tool (countless cases of copying each year), and the psychometric exam, which is a problematic screening tool.
The second track will be the restoration of trade education to schools in grades 11 and 12, and even 13. The economy is in desperate need of skilled manual workers, such as welders, electricians, chefs and carpenters, and the educational system must create appropriate certification tests, so that educational networks and schools will be able to train students who are interested. Currently there is a response to a similar demand, for example, in hotel management. instead of giving professions a façade of academic graduation, we propose to establish a system of appropriate professional training in a variety of occupations that are needed in the economy. Parents will choose what their children learn with the help of their voucher.
The present compulsory education law permits parents to educate their children by means of homeschooling. The problem is that the education system does not approve of this phenomenon and places many obstacles in the way, even harassing parents and their children. Just as a small example, if a child designated as gifted is homeschooled, that child loses the right to participate in enrichment programs for which he would otherwise be eligible. Zehut recognizes the right of parents to raise their children in the way they believe, including by homeschooling. Therefore, Education Ministry regulations that limit homeschooling will be updated, so that this option will be open to any parent who wants it, without harm being caused to him or his children. In addition, we will weigh an option of redeeming a voucher at a reduced value for the purposes of homeschooling (courses, materials and so on).
Free is not Obligatory
To close this chapter, we return to the beginning, and will deal with young kindergarten children. In this area, it is important to emphasize the profound difference between free education and education as a legal obligation. In September 2012 the State of Israel determined that the Free Education Law would apply from the age of 3, but along with this, it also made education compulsory from that age as of 2015. Zehut will stop this dangerous move, and allow parents to raise their young children up to the age of kindergarten in the way they see fit, without any coercion from “Big Brother.” Free preschool education is sufficiently “generous” and has its own complex implications, but there is no need to turn the tables and require parents to place their children in an educational framework at such a young age.
Restoring the Status of the Family
The family is the cornerstone of society and culture. The image and identity of a person is formed in the family unit, both as an individual and as part of the community and society. The strength of the family is the decisive factor in the development of children who grow up in it to become healthy, independent, happy and ethical adults. Therefore, preserving the strength of the family unit is a social and national task of the highest order.
Just as individual liberty and the integration of a person’s identity are essential to his growth and full potential, so too the family requires independence and the ability to function as an integrated and organic unit in order to be strong and to prosper. Although there are unfortunate cases in which the state must initiate interference in the family unit to avoid injury, as a general rule, the family knows how to protect the interests of its members, especially its children, and to ensure their well-being – more than anyone else.
Too often, when the state seeks to dictate culture and shape man’s image, it undermines the independence of the family unit and interferes unnecessarily with its decisions. The responsibility and authority of the family to see to the safety and well-being of its members and the education of its children are violated in favor of cultural and educational ideas dictated from above, or as a result of laws and regulations seeking to regulate every aspect of the lives of individuals.
This is most blatant in the painful case of the dissolution of the family unit due to separation or divorce. In this situation, the intervention of the state is required in order to ensure that the welfare and best interests of the children are secured and that the rights and duties of the parents are maintained while maintaining equality. In this case, the state should serve as a mediator and conciliator and allow the creation of a framework for cooperation between the parents in the raising of their children. Instead, it tends to take advantage of its authority to impose its own conditions on the divorcing couple, and thereby encourages disputes and legal battles that harm the couple’s ability to overcome the crisis and to continue to raise their children, often creating a breach between the children and one of the parents.
Zehut will act to preserve and develop the independence of the family unit, especially when it comes to the education of the children and shared economic decisions.
In the case of the family unit, Zehut will change the role of the state so that it will resolve disputes rather than encouraging them. Zehut will promote a concept of shared parental responsibility for children of divorced parents and carrying the burden of raising them, affording both sides equal and fair treatment both in division of common property and in child rearing.
Strengthening the Independence of the Family Unit
Excluding exceptional cases, the state has no right and no reason to interfere in decisions made within the framework of the family unit. This is because the average family is perfectly capable of protecting the interests of its members.
Strengthening the independence of the family unit is the best way to ensure the well-being of family members. Zehut will strengthen this independence by following these steps:
- Restoration of responsibility for children’s education to parentsby affording them a choice in education.
- Restoration of natural parental authority (parental guardianship).
- Permitting driving lessons within the family, which will allow parents to teach their children this vital skill and educate them to adopt the culture and values that accompany it.
- Adoption of a flat tax instead of the current tax system, which discriminates against families with one main breadwinner.
Parental Responsibility for Education
Zehut will enable choice for education, which will restore to parents the sole authority to choose the educators of their children and the curriculum, and allow them to take full responsibility for their children’s education. The option of choice in education will increase the involvement of parents in education and in formulating the moral and cultural world of their children.
In keeping with the principle of shared parental responsibility, responsibility for the education of their children will fall equally on both parents, even if they separate. Parents who separate will be required to come to an agreement about the educational institution in which their children will learn. The state will be able to bridge and offer a compromise, but will not be able to, as a rule, require the parents to send their children to an educational institution that is not acceptable to even one of them.
 Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Kiddushin 29b. The Talmud states the guiding principle of the Jewish approach to education, which holds that the fundamental responsibility for the education of the son, both morally-spiritually and professionally-economically – is the responsibility of the father and the family. The family may, of course, appoint agents to carry out this duty, in the form of teachers and institutions, but the fundamental responsibility for education always remains on the shoulders of the parents.
 According to Central Bureau of Statistics, national expenditures on education in 2014 were 86.4 billion shekels.
 For details of the calculations, see the appendix “Education Voucher System Data.”
 Between 2012 and 2014, the number of students increased by 5% and expenditure on education increased by 10.5%, and from then until today, the numbers have risen even more.
 Spending per student in grades 7-12, including buildings, in 2014, was 2,985 shekels per month per student, see the calculation in the appendix.
 Some will move to education networks, see below.
 There is a debate on the subject, and it is quite possible that other factors are responsible for this phenomenon, such as the massive absorption of immigrants without grounding in local morals.
 Both in terms of how much consideration the assessment is given and in terms of its cost in time and money, which extract a high price from the Israeli economy
 The method is described in the chapter on education in this section.
 Through a voucher system, described in the chapter on education in this sectionכסף.