Students will pay $10 more – $65 – to receive driver education from the Wake County school system starting July 1 due to the potential elimination of state funding for the program.
The school board approved the $10 increase on Tuesday to try to partially recoup the extra costs the district will pick up unless the General Assembly restores the $26 million it has provided statewide for driver education. The legislature removed the recurring funding for the program last year, meaning no new funding is set aside starting July 1.
The school board unanimously passed the increase, but board member Jim Martin faulted the state for not guaranteeing the funding.
“I am not a big fan of passing this public responsibility onto students and their families,” Martin said. “Driver education is a collective good. It saves the lives of all of us, not just of the drivers, and I believe this is something that should be a state investment.”
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Under North Carolina’s graduated licensing program for young drivers, driver education class is mandatory for anyone younger than 18 who applies for a learner’s permit. Students get 30 hours of classroom instruction and six hours behind the wheel.
Once they turn 18, teens can get a license without the class by passing Division of Motor Vehicles tests.
State law requires school districts to offer driver education to every student in public, private and home-schools in their districts who wants the program. In Wake, 12,000 teens annually go through the district’s program, which is contracted to Jordan Driving School.
But no state funding is set aside for the upcoming fiscal year even though the state is still requiring school systems to offer driver education. The General Assembly is letting districts raise the fee it can charge to $65. But school officials say that $10 increase won’t offset the $191 per student that the state provides.
The state has been cutting the amount provided to driver education since 2011, shifting more of the costs on to school districts and students.
The new state House budget includes $26.4 million in non-recurring funds for driver education in 2015-16. But school leaders say there’s no guarantee the Senate will also agree to provide the funding.