A chorale performance at Nazareth Baptist School, one of 47 Christian schools in Israel, which educate around 33,000 students. (Photo: Nazareth Baptist School Facebook page)
The state of Israel provides 100 percent of the funding for state-run public and Orthodox Jewish schools, compared to only 29 percent for Christian schools.
The reduced funding and tightened restrictions on tuition increases led Christian schools to strike on Sept. 1.
A majority of the Israeli-Arab schools joined the strike on Sept. 8, according to The Jerusalem Post (TJP), in a show of support for the Christian schools.
There are 47 Christian schools in Israel, including Nazareth Baptist School, which currently educate around 33,000 students.
The Association of Baptist Churches in Israel (ABCI) published an overview of the situation on Sept. 9, noting, "Christians do not see this as a funding problem only, but as an attempt by the Israeli government to obtain control over their schools and possibly turn them into public schools."
The Israeli education ministry has said no funding cuts took place over the past two years, according to TJP, and asserted that Christian schools "are funded in an equal manner to other recognized but unofficial institutions in the State of Israel."
Christian school leaders have challenged this claim, citing ultra-Orthodox schools that receive 100 percent of the funding provided to state-run schools.
Abdul Massih Fahim, director-general of the Roman Catholic Christian schools network, said the government claim was "technically correct," but only because they have reduced the required number of teaching hours per student in order to reduce funding.
Yohanna Katanacho, professor of biblical studies and academic dean at Nazareth Evangelical College in Israel, wrote a column about the situation prior to the strikes.
The Christian schools provide quality education for many Palestinian Arabs in Israel, Katanacho explained, a group the Israeli public education often neglects.
The church-based schools are "considered some of the best schools in the country and their students have some of the highest scores in the national exam that qualify students for universities," he added.
Botrus Mansour, general director of the Nazareth Baptist School, spoke with Katanacho about the challenges in a video interview prior to the strike, which Katanacho shared with EthicsDaily.com.
"[Christian schools] have been operating for tens of years, some for hundreds of years; a lot of them before Israel was established [as a nation]," he said.
The budget cuts have required that the schools begin charging increased tuition to compensate.
The problem is that "last year the minister of education ... issued regulations saying that we could not even collect [additional] tuition. So they put us in an impossible situation of not being able to continue to operate," Mansour said.
An Al-Jazeera report by Lisa Goldman further explained that tuition caps were created, which meant that Christian schools could not increase tuition enough to offset the decline in government funding.
"We tried to solve the problem," Mansour said. "We entered into negotiations with the minister of education and they ... proposed that we become government schools, which we rejected because this would change the whole nature of the school."
This would require Christian schools to "submit to the pressure of Israelization and a vision of a Jewish State in which Palestinian Christians are marginalized," Katanacho emphasized.
Bishop Giacinto-Boulos Marcuzzo, the Roman Catholic patriarchal vicar for Israel, told Agence France-Presse, "If Christian schools are threatened, in the long run, it is the very Christian presence in Israel that is threatened."