Yoav Fisher
Father, Economist

An Open Letter to Asaf Zamir – Deputy Mayor of Tel Aviv in charge of Education

Dear Asaf,

We haven’t met yet, but I have a feeling we would probably get along well.  A number of people that I respect respect you.  Therefore, when I read your long posting on Facebook concerning the recent decision to fund only 2 employees for preschools in Tel Aviv, I was disappointed.

It was the same feeling of disappointment I had when I met with Meital Lehavi – deputy mayor of Tel Aviv in charge of Transportation– a few weeks ago, to hear her thoughts about the matter.

First, I do agree with you that there is a misconception about the amount of money that the city has, and there is definitely a narrow viewpoint.  People complain about what hurts them most, but what hurts a parent from Lamed is not necessarily what hurts a pensioner from Shapira or Neve Sharett.

We parents live here because the city is unique.  We pay a premium and barely afford to live here as it is because we want the quality of life the city provides.  And according to the demographic trends from the last decade, we aren’t going anywhere.

But the general feeling is that the issue of education, in this case early childhood education, is not being addressed seriously.  You say that the city does not have any extra money, which is true, but I find it hard to believe that it was impossible find an additional 5.5 Million shekels from the 4.5B shekels that were allocated in 2014.  How is it not possible to take a small amount from that to make up the 5.5Million?  Nearly 66 Million went to “Cleaning Services” in 2014.  There was no way to cut that by one million?  Over 1.6M went to “Refreshments” alone.  Surely there is a way to buy less Abadi cookies and save some money.

In addition, it is hard for me to understand the problem with generating more revenue.  There have been endless research papers about how to raise money for early childhood education.  There are countless examples of success stories from all across the world (I think something like the Child Care Developer Fee Loan Program from Santa Cruz, California, can be an excellent solution for Tel Aviv).  But when I brought this up to Levahi, she brushed it off and said “it’s impossible”.

I disagree with that.  If it truly was a priority for the city, then the city would come up with a solution.  (I would love to help).

I also disagree that early childhood education is an bottomless pit of resources.  Many people who are much smarter than me have proven the significance of early childhood education, not just for development, but from an economic perspective as well.  A recent survey paper from MIT came to an interesting conclusion:  For every dollar spent nationally on early childhood education, the country saves 13 dollars in expenses.  Every shekel that Tel Aviv invests in early childhood education means savings on expenses for special needs and remedial education. Savings on expenses for criminal justice and prison costs, lower welfare and unemployment costs, and higher incomes and subsequent feedback into local economy.

Imagine if the city adequately funded early childhood education fifteen years ago.  All of the problems I you wrote about in Yafo and in the south part of the city concerning current high-school aged kids would be vastly improved, and the city could save millions today.

On a more practical level, think of the 5.5M that is needed to pay for extra staff member.  Let’s say an assistant makes 6000 a month.  This 5.5 million is therefore equivalent to about 75 extra teachers.  For the sake of argument, let’s assume these 75 teachers all live in Tel Aviv.  Therefore, there are 75 addition people who contribute back to the local economy.

According to the latest CBS numbers, the marginal propensity to consume at an income of 6000 shekels is 100 percent.  In addition, there is an income multiplier effect of about 1.4 for developing countries.  Therefore, each additional employee who makes 6000 shekels a month contributes back to the local economy 8400 shekels.   The additional employee spends money on Arnona, utilities, rent, clothing, restaurants, the movies, or whatever.  The restaurant uses this money to pay for salaries, municipal taxes, electrify, etc… And so on and so on.  Therefore, the 5.5M spent on 75 additional employees actually pays for itself, and even generates more income to the local economy.

But as you stated, people in city hall believe there are more important issues to address first.

And this is the core of the issue:  Priorities.  Tel Aviv already goes above and beyond the national allocated amounts for culture and transportation, but why not for education?  The general feeling that parents have is that the city is “throwing it’s hands up” at the issue and hiding behind the convenient motto of “Go find your friends in the Knesset” (as Lehavi told me).  Parents are the economic core of this city, yet we feel we are not being prioritized.

Huldai has been very successful in making Tel Aviv unique and special, which is why we want to stay.  But you and I both know that if the demographic trends continue, funding education will become a much more acute problem.  The problem will become much more acute in the coming years if it is not adequately addressed now.  The correlation between early childhood education and future success is undeniable. What you don’t pay for today will cost you much more in the future.

Therefore, if education really is a priority for the city, then try harder.  Be more transparent with us about the considerations going on in City Hall.  Nominate an outside committee to take another look at the budget.  Fight to find a way to generate more income specifically for education.  Maybe one of the ideas posted on your Facebook wall is good and is worth looking into, instead of just brushing it off, as Lehavi implied.  (Here’s my idea for you:  A behavioral tax for every shmuck that double parks illegally on Ibn Gvirol to go buy cigarettes, forcing drivers behind him to make a dangerous last-second merge into traffic to avoid an accident).

And if education is not a priority, then at least be honest and tell us, so we know who to vote for in the next election.

Respectfully Yours,

Yoav Fisher – Concerned father of three.


P.S.  One final not for the parents who have gotten this far.  Make sure to educate yourself before you attack people like Asaf.  He is trying to do his job, just like you are trying to do yours.  The budget for the city is available online, and there are hundreds of academic papers on the benefits of early childhood education and how to fund it.

Holding a “strike” and bringing your kids to Kikar Rabin is cute, but not an effective way to force change.   Next time, pick a normal weekday and bring all your kids to the top floor of City Hall and leave them there for 2 hours.  Let Huldai’s staff try to handle 35 three year olds at once.

About the Author
Yoav Fisher lives and works in Israel.
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