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WUNC's American Graduate Project is part of a nationwide public media conversation about the dropout crisis. We'll explore the issue through news reports, call-in programs and a forum produced with UNC-TV. Also as a part of this project we've partnered with the Durham Nativity School and YO: Durham to found the WUNC Youth Radio Club. These reports are part of American Graduate-Let’s Make it Happen!- a public media initiative to address the drop out crisis, supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and these generous funders: Project Funders:GlaxoSmithKlineThe Goodnight Educational FoundationJoseph M. Bryan Foundation State FarmThe Grable FoundationFarrington FoundationMore education stories from WUNC

Driver’s Ed Funding Cuts Hurt Students, Wake Officials Say

Interstate 40 traffic
Dave DeWitt
I-40 traffic

Wake County school leaders said Thursday that the state’s decision to eliminate funding for driver’s education could put students at risk and lead to higher costs for families and taxpayers.

This summer, state lawmakers passed legislation to eliminate the $26 million school districts now receive to fund the program. That means starting next July, when the new fiscal year begins, districts will have to find other means to cover program costs.

“We have to locally find a way to fund the program and with our current structure that would create some real challenges,” said Todd Wirt, Wake County’s assistant superintendent for academics.

Wake County Public School officials said they’re asking lawmakers to restore state funding for driver’s education. The request was one of many in a legislative agenda they approved on Tuesday.

Required To Offer Program

Local school districts are mandated by the state to offer driver's education to public, private, charter and homeschool students.

Devin Tanner, who oversees the driver’s ed program for Wake County Public schools, said the district will have to set aside about $2.5 million for the 2015-2016 school year to run the program without state funds.

Under the legislation, school districts will be allowed to charge students $65 dollars to help offset costs. Currently, Wake school officials can charge only $55 in addition to the $191 the state provides per student.  

Susan Evans, a Wake County school board member, expressed concerns about the possibility of increasing costs for students.

“If we’re going to have young drivers who have not gone through driver training program because the expense was a deterrent, then will have more untrained, inexperienced drivers on our roads,” she said at Tuesday’s board meeting.

Concerns Of Endangering Public Safety

Tanner said statistics show that people who did not go through a graduated driver’s education program are more likely to be involved in fatal car accidents.  

Allison Perrin, a senior at Leesville Road High School, said she’s worried what the state’s elimination of funding for driver’s education will mean for student safety.

“At my school, there have been a couple of car accidents, just minor fender benders, and if we make it more difficult to go through said program, it may result in more dangerous hazards on the road,” said Perrin.

Lawmakers are expected to discuss budgeting issues, like this one, when they reconvene next year. 

Reema Khrais joined WUNC in 2013 to cover education in pre-kindergarten through high school. Previously, she won the prestigious Joan B. Kroc Fellowship. For the fellowship, she spent a year at NPR where she reported nationally, produced on Weekends on All Things Considered and edited on the digital desk. She also spent some time at New York Public Radio as an education reporter, covering the overhaul of vocational schools, the contentious closures of city schools and age-old high school rivalries.
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