There's a change coming for Watauga High School students that take Driver's Education classes, and that change could also greatly impact each school district in North Carolina.
In 2014, the North Carolina General Assembly voted to end funding for Driver's Education starting July 1, 2015. More than 100,000 teen drivers across the state would lose driver training before obtaining a driver's license, according to information released by the Watauga County School system this week.
Since 1957, money for Driver's Education came from a state highway fund, but in 2011, school districts were given the authority by the state to charge a fee of up to $55 to students taking the driving classes. This year, the fee increases to $65, but officials with Watauga County Schools, and across the state, say the fee is far below the cost of such programs.
Driver's Education in Watauga County costs $197 per student during the 2014-15 school year, according to Watauga County Schools. There is currently no Driver's Education fee at Watauga High School, but officials warn that if funding is not restored in the current legislative session, students will face the $65 fee. The school system would also have to cut about $130 in other programs for every student who enrolls in driver education next year.
WataugaRoads.com asked officals with Watauga County Schools – How many students a year take Driver's Education at WHS? Has that number stayed pretty consistent over the last several years?
- 242 students at Watauga High completed Driver's Education in 2013-2014.
- As of the end of January 2015, there have been 179 students take Driver's Education for the 2014-2015 school year.
- It is projected that 380 students will complete driver's education this school year.
- Regarding consistency, we base our projections on the number of rising freshmen. This year, we had a large freshmen class (385 enrolled). Currently, there are 310 eighth graders in WCS, so we would use that number for our projections for next year's ninth grade class and potential driver's education students.
State law requires those under 18 years old must take a Driver's Education course, which includes 30 hours of classroom work and 6 hours of behind-the-wheel instruction, before applying for a driver's license. Students are not required to take a driver's education class, but high schools in North Carolina are required to offer it.
Local officials say that in the absence of state funds, many families may find driver's education unaffordable, making it more difficult for students to work and to participate in extra-curricular activities. An online search for private instruction shows the cost between $300 to $400 per student.
In a published report, one North Carolina school system says they could easily see at least a 60% drop-off in the number of students that take Driver's Education due to the coming changes. Both local and state-wide officials warn of the potential safety concerns from the loss of funding. When students turn 18, they will then be able to obtain a license with no driver training and without the graduated licensing that provides students with supervised driving experience before operating a vehicle with no restrictions.