Funding For Driving Classes Set To Run Out - Brevard NC
Last updated 4/20/2015 at 8:39am
It’s a busy time of the year for Alan Justice, transportation director for Transylvania County Schools. Justice has been to both Rosman and Brevard middle and high schools to sign up students to take summer driving classes, although, as of now, funding for the program is set to run out June 30.
By state mandate, school systems are required to offer driver’s education, although Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget did not provide any funding this year or last year.
That doesn’t make much sense to Justice.
“As it sits now, I have about 20 kids who might not get their driving permit,” he said. “They have already taken their classroom instructional time, but that money may run out by the time they are old enough to take the behind-the-wheel portion. “They’re going to mandate it, but they won’t fund it. It doesn’t make any sense.”
In 2015, Justice has taught 270 students in the classroom portion of the driver’s education program. State law requires 30 hours of classroom time and six hours of behind the wheel instruction. This summer 150 students are scheduled to take the class.
On Thursday, House Bill 919 was filed in the General Assembly in Raleigh calling for the driver education program to be funded from unclaimed lottery prize money and from the proceeds of late fees on motor vehicle registration.
If the funding isn’t approved, it could cost the school system or parents $300 to $400 per student, Justice said, to pay for the program.
Transylvania County currently charges $40 per student to take driver’s education, although state law allows school systems to charge up to $65 per student.
Neighboring Buncombe County charges $45, and Henderson charges $65.
Justice said Transylvania’s program works with families who can’t afford the fee.
“We hate to see parents who can’t pay,” he said. “If their kids want to drive, their parents bear that burden. Every parent wants to see their kids get their license.”
That money includes home-schooled students and charter schools. If Brevard Academy were to add high school classes, Justice said, “we would take them.”
Justice does most of the classroom teaching himself, but a few years ago he contracted the behind-the-wheel portion of drivers education to Mountain Professionals, the largest provider of driver education services in Western North Carolina.
With that contract, Justice said he was able to save Transylvania County Schools a decent amount of money.
Leroy Ledford is the owner of Mountain Professionals, and he has taught driver’s education in public schools for 20 years.
Part of his agreement with Justice and Transylvania County was that Justice could continue to employ local driving teachers who he has for a number of years, some of whom are retired coaches and teachers from the area.
“We have 60 teachers and 50 cars,” said Ledford.
Ledford services nine counties and watches the future of driver’s education in the state closely, because his business depends on it.
An alternative to funding the driver’s education program locally would be to move a “parent-taught” system, but Ledford believes that is a bad idea.
“A bill has been filed in the Senate that instructs the Department of Public Instruction and the DMV to do a study to move driver’s education to a parent-taught program,’ Ledford said. “This bill requires the study to report back to the committee on how to do that by March 15 of 2016. That implies to me, that they want to leave it as is, or that North Carolina will fund it one more year until we figure out how to do it parent-taught.
“In my opinion, the parent-taught system will be a hard sell to other legislators. The state of Texas tried it. Accidents went up, insurance rates went up, and deaths went up.
“Texas is getting out of that system now. My own insurance agent has told me that if this happens, insurance rates will climb in North Carolina.”
If the DPI moves to a parent-taught system, Ledford said his business would fold.
“If we close, the impact will be significant,” he said. “We burn $140,000 in fuel each year and think of how many tires we use up, plus the 60 drivers I employ and the mechanics that work on my vehicles.”
Justice said that the best thing to do for now is to contact the state legislators who represent Transylvania County — N.C. Rep. Chris Whitmire and N.C. Sen. Tom Apodaca.
“This is important,” said Justice. “The bookwork is important, of course, but where the rubber meets the road is where it matters. We need to keep funding this program. I’ve talked to a lot of parents that aren’t even aware that this is happening.
“We need to contact our representatives in Raleigh. The safety of our students is what’s at stake here.”
Apodaca may be reached at Tom.Apo [email protected] or by calling (919) 733-5745.
Whitmire may be reached at Chris.Whit [email protected] or by calling (919) 715-4466.