North Carolina has developed a very good driver's education program, instituting a graduated licensing process and requiring prospective drivers to spend 30 hours in the classroom and six hours behind the wheel before getting learner's permits. Youngsters between the ages of 15 and 18 also have to put in 60 hours driving with a parent before getting a license. That's a pretty good amount of experience - though it no doubt seems too much to many parents.
Driver's ed is a smart program. And the $55 fee that schools can charge is fair in that it's affordable. But now the state Senate is moving money all over the place in the name of balancing books without raising taxes, and it's doing so with a $400 million to $500 million revenue shortfall forecast. In all of the shuffling, the driver's education program loses out.
The Senate wants to take the driver's ed money out of the Department of Transportation's budget and put it in the Department of Public Instruction to make up for cuts the Senate budget makes to DPI's funding for school buses. The Senate also would lift the cap on the $55 fee, which likely would mean some school districts would have to raise the fee by multiples to provide driver's ed.
Make no mistake: Driver's ed is a safety program. It gives young people intensive training, experience behind the wheel and time with parents for more instruction. And without it ... unfortunately, if fees are raised and some students can't afford it, they'll simply have to wait until they're 18 to get a regular license, without having had the benefit of driver's ed training. That's not going to be good for them or for those with whom they share the road.
The Senate is messing with a popular and sensible program. It does not need to be put on the lift for a tune-up that will leave it out of tune.