The new school year begins Monday and for the first time in Israel's history, parents of toddlers aged 3 and 4 will not have to pay school fees.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took the opportunity of Sunday's cabinet session to pat himself on the back for the reform – an understandable move, seeing as the hostile Israeli press is not likely to do so for him.
Free education from age three is "something which we dreamed about for 64 years and spoke about for decades with a law that was not upheld. We are honoring this law and investing in it," Netanyahu said.
"We are changing the face of education in Israel. Starting early, we have built approximately 900 new nursery schools and kindergartens. Education Minister Gideon Saar and I visited one a few days ago, in Rehovot. I met an adorable little boy there named Barak. He decided that same day that he wanted to be a doctor. I wish that he and the 270,000 other children like him should realize their potential because we are really giving them the chance to realize their dreams, and to realize our national goal, our national goals as a progressive state at the forefront of science, technology and economics – this is education."
Netanyahu, whom the press has been pummeling over recent price hikes, hammered home that the new measure was a significant cost saver.
"I also remind you that we are talking about an NIS 800 savings for every child, every month. This is a great savings for families," he said. "Not only is this our contribution or investment in our children's future – we are doing so at a time when the economies of the world are shrinking, and I know that this is the best investment that we can make in our children's future. I wish good luck to Israel's children and good luck to the little children who are starting nursery school at age 3, good luck to the first graders, good luck to all."
Education Minister Gideon Saar added that the government also plans to provide afternoon daycare, starting in the weaker local authorities, to subsidize annual class trips and carry out "a dramatic expansion" of the borrowing of text books.
Each of these measures saves hundreds of shekels a year for families, he said.