TEL AVIV — The school year is starting soon, and with it comes another not-so-small burden on families around Israel: pre-school and pre-elementary education can cost up to one-third of a person's gross salary, even in upper-income cities and towns.

Indeed, child care expenses for young families was a central point of contention during the 2011 social protests centered in Tel Aviv — Israel's largely middle-class version of the Indignados movement challenging economic policy around the West. And while that movement has largely faded, an investigation by Calcalist shows that the financial burden of early education on Israeli families has not.

An analysis of child care, nursery school and kindergarten prices in different cities compared to the average gross salary of workers in those cities, shows that the cost of education represents one-quarter to one-third of family income. When compared to net income, the proportion of education costs would be even higher.

The analysis was conducted in 14 cities, based on the average of the most expensive and cheapest nursery and kindergarten prices, and on the average salary of the city. In eight out of the 14 cities, the prices represent 30% or more of gross pay. Furthermore, it seems that there is no major difference between poorer and wealthier: In the cities where school costs less, the salary is lower as well.

In Petah-Tikva for instance, pre-elementary school costs 2,400-3,000 shekels ($670-$840) and the average salary is around 9,000 shekels ($2,525) a month.  On the other hand in Ashdod, the school costs 1,800-2,400 shekels ($500- 670), but the average salary is also lower: 7,330 shekels ($2,050). In both cities, despite the considerable difference in the average salary, the early education costs represents exactly 30% of monthly income.

In five other cities, pre-elementary education costs up to one-quarter of the average salary, even when the prices are relatively cheap. Without forgetting that those prices are for one child: Families with twins or two young children weigh doubly on the parents’ income.

In Jerusalem - Photo: David Soto-Karlin

Only in Modi’in is the cost of child care lower (18%): The pre-school and kindergartens are not cheap (around $700), but the salaries are high ($3700)

In Tel Aviv, the cost represents 31% of the average salary. In Haifa 32%, Netanya 33%, Beersheba 28%.

A complicated market

The opening of many public facilities for kids aged three and older (a result of the 2011 social protests) have helped ease up the burden, but for younger children it is still difficult to find subsidized structures like Wizo or Naamat, so families have to turn to private and more expensive nursery schools and kindergartens.

“The main contributor to the cost is labor," says Hanan Dagan, chairman of the union for child-care workers. "For every five or six children, there is a caregiver." Doing the math, this means that if a caregiver or teacher's monthly salary is 5,000 shekels ($1,400), the cost to the facility is 6,500 ($1,800), which means 1,000 shekels ($280) per child.

"And these prices are for the periphery," Dagan adds. "In the city center, the cost of the same caregiver can go up to tens of thousands of shekels.”

To that you have to add the maintenance of the facility, including rent and taxes. Dagan says there is no way to break this market, “because if you break it, you lose. All along this past year we have heard of many schools that reached a situation of near bankruptcy, and I'm talking about good, well-established facilities."