The battle going on in the N.C. Legislature about continued funding of the public schools’ driver education program did not stop classes from being held this week in the Elkin City Schools.
Dr. Randy Bledsoe, superintendent of the school system, said at Monday’s Elkin City Schools Board of Education meeting that its driver education class had started that morning in the Elkin High School Media Center. Classes were scheduled to be held from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. through today, a total of 30 hours of instruction.
Students had to be 14 years and six months old to participate, and daily attendance was mandatory.
The cost of the classes was $65, the same as it was last year. Jan Zachary, finance officer for the school system, said the fee has only been in place for the last two or three years. “We’ve always just paid for it,” she said, “but now with funding down, we’re collecting the $65.”
Dr. Richard Brinegar, school board chairman, said some school systems already have stopped offering a driver education program. By offering the classes when state funding appears to be ending, he said the school board may end up having to pay for it with local funds.
“The parents that I’ve talked to are happy that we’ve continued it,” Brinegar said.
The Yadkin County Schools also offered driver education classes this year. The first session was held from June 22 to July 2, and the last session started on the 13th and ended Thursday.
Forty-three representatives of North Carolina’s 115 school systems indicated in a survey conducted by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction that they were suspending their drivers education program this year, according to a June 30 article in The News and Observer in Raleigh. Representatives of 42 systems indicated they were continuing with programs, and 30 had not responded to the survey when the article was written.
The N.C. Senate’s proposed budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year provides no driver education funding for the public schools and removes the $65 cap a local education agency may charge a student. The Senate also issued a directive to the North Carolina Community College System to study establishing statewide, tuition-based driver education programs and approved shifting responsibility for the program to community colleges in 2016.
The budget being proposed by the N.C. House, however, provides $16.37 million in non-recurring General Fund money for the 2015-16 fiscal year. After that, House representatives propose funding driver education through a created revenue stream of fines on late vehicle registrations estimated to be worth about $27 million a year.
Members of the two branches, who are also at odds on the funding of teacher assistants, are convening now to agree on a proposed budget to be presented to Gov. Pat McCrory for final approval. McCrory also removed funding for the driver education program in his proposed budget.
If state funding is cut and Elkin City Schools officials opt to continue offering driver education with local funds, the cost will be lower due to a change passed at its June 29 meeting. The board voted unanimously at its June 29 meeting to award its driver education contract to the N.C. Driving School for $210 per child, $200 lower per child than the bid submitted by Dan Kiger, who was awarded last year’s bid.
“The new provider saved us some money,” Brinegar said. “Will that savings of money cover the entire cost if the state gives us nothing? We really don’t know. My guess is that the local board will have to contribute some money. We’re just waiting on what the state tells us.”
A law passed in 1953 states, “Whereas, it has now become a matter of necessity for the State of North Carolina to attempt to teach its youth in the public schools of the State safe driving habits and the inherent dangers of motor vehicles when improperly operated.”
Classes have been offered free through the public schools for 64 years until now.
Kathy Chaffin can be reached at 336-258-4058.