Education minister says state subsidies for school children’s visits to Poland conditional on community volunteering; school principals: ‘It is absurd to make students volunteer because of a grant their parents requested.’ Education Minister Naftali Bennett announced that financial assistance will be provided to children whose parents cannot afford high school trips to Poland to visit Holocaust-related sites. The assistance will be conditional upon hours of community volunteering. Some school staff, however, vehemently oppose the initiative, claiming that it would cause embarrassment and ridicule for the students affected.
Bennett’s initiative to fund trips to Poland for children from families who cannot afford the high costs has been met by unexpected opposition from parents and school principals who have urged the Education Ministry to scrap the stipulation requiring the recipients’ children to partake in community volunteering. In their opinion, such provisions risk humiliating the students.
Aside from the fact that the Education Ministry has not yet set aside sufficient funds for the initiative, school principals have warned that the conditions will expose the financial difficulties of the children’s families and therefore humiliate them before their friends and fellow students.
Recognizing the potential consequences, some school principals stated, “We are working with sensitivity and with discretion to avoid embarrassing the students. Most of the students do not know that their parents applied for assistance. It is absurd to make the students work in the community because of a grant their parents requested.”
Furthermore, the principals said that many parents requesting grants to fund their children’s trip to Poland specifically ask that their children not be informed. In light of the new initiative, they claimed that some of the parents have said that if their children’s grants are provisional upon volunteer work, they will refrain from requesting the funding and will not allow their children to participate in the visits.
Even though Bennett announced in the Knesset that “the main thing which stops children participating in trips because of economic hardships is also true of trips to Poland,” trips there can cost as much as 5,200 shekels. According to the principals, the average grant of 1,000 shekels is insufficient, which is why Bennett’s program is, in practice, “disconnected from reality.”
“The price of the trips is also expensive to families of moderate socio-economic background because of the cost of living.” At the moment, parents who request subsidies for their children’s trips are required to write a letter explaining their request to which they must attach their pay slips, pension slips or proof of unemployment. The subsidies can range between 1,000–3,000 shekels, depending on family’s income.
However, many principals claim that this is not enough: “A student will receive a scholarship of 1,000 shekels if the family can prove that its income per person is between 2,201 and 3,000 shekels gross, including benefits; then they have to find another 4,200 shekels and decide between paying the electric bill, municipal taxes, or the trip.”
MK Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Union) demanded that the Ministry of Education to cancel the conditions of the financial assistance: “The thought that what prevents thousands of children from going to see the remains of Auschwitz is that their parents cannot afford it is not an excuse.”