Fee policy varies for driver’s ed programs around county

Getting that first driver’s license will be a little pricier for Hillsboro High School students after the USD 410 Board of Education decided July 15 to begin charging a $75 fee for driver’s education.

The decision came as part of the board’s efforts to meet the proposed budget for the 2003-04 school year.

HHS Vice Principal Max Heinrichs said it is not uncommon to charge a fee for the program.

“We are one of the few that doesn’t make people pay to take the class,” he said. “You go to a lot of places and they’re charging $150 a kid.”

Policies in the six Marion County school districts vary greatly (see sidebar), but half the districts already charge a fee for driver’s education.

Marion and Peabody schools have charged a fee for years.

Brian Simmonds, who teaches driver’s education at Peabody-Burns USD 398, said that even with the charge, enrollment in the class is high.

“I’d say we get 75 percent or 80 percent percent of the kids to take it,” he said.

Simmonds believes one of the things that will keep the numbers up is the requirement that students complete driver’s ed in order to get a restricted license that enables them to drive to and from home and school or work when they are 15.

“They can’t get a restricted license without taking driver’s ed anymore,” he said. “So unless you want to wait until you’re 16 or you can get a farm permit, you’ve got to take it.”

Simmonds said charging for the class may actually motivate the students to do better.

“When I first started, the cost was very minimal-$10,” he said. “So it was basically a service.

“I was finding that $10 wasn’t very motivating for the kids to do well-sometimes the kids didn’t put forth a lot of effort because they just said, ‘I’ll take it again’ or ‘I’ll just go get my license.'”

Simmonds said the Peabody-Burns program, at a cost of $122 per student, is close to being self-funded.

Even with the cost more than $100, most people have been able to come up with the money, he said.

“We do try to work with families,” he said. “I’ve held checks to a certain date. This last year I had a family that had two kids at the same time, so you’re talking quite a bit of money there.”

Concern over the financial impact of the change prompted the Hillsboro school board to approve a three-tier fee structure. Students who qualify for reduced-price meals will pay $37.50 for the class, and those who are eligible for no-charge meals will pay $15.

Hillsboro’s $75 charge won’t come close to covering the cost of the program.

“It costs anywhere from $180 to $230 to teach a student to drive,” Heinrichs. “So we’re still, as a school system, taking a hit on that, but it’s kind of a public service, too. Most of the time people are willing to send their kids to get the training they should have.”

One of the values of a formal driver’s education program is that it covers techniques a parent might not think to teach.

“There are a lot of little things that you don’t think of telling them when you are a parent because you’ve done it for so long it becomes natural,” Heinrichs said. “Some of those are things they need to hear and do.”

Simmonds said: “We are trying not only to teach the skills and the knowledge, but to influence their attitude-to make them understand how important it is, and how dangerous it is, to be in that vehicle.

“We spend a lot of time talking about silly mistakes that you can make real quickly that can be life threatening,” he added.

The driver’s education instructor can also help students and parents wade through the seemingly complex rules governing teen driving.

“Along with the change they made to require driver’s ed to get your restricted license, you also have to have had an instruction permit (IP) for six months,” Simmonds said.

During that six-month period, the licensee must complete 25 hours of supervised driving. A total of 50 hours are required prior to age 16 in order to get an unrestricted license.

“So even though you take driver’s ed, you have to have your IP for six months and you have to do your 50 hours,” Simmonds said. “At age 16, you don’t automatically get a full license unless you’ve done that.”

Even if a child does not go through a formal driver’s education program, he or she must still complete the 50 hours of supervised driving.

Simmonds said many parents are not aware of that requirement.

He finds most parents are more than happy to turn over these rules and the teaching of advanced driving techniques to a professional who has the necessary knowledge, experience and equipment to help the child become road-worthy.

Most parents are thankful that someone else is sitting by their child when he or she takes a hairpin curve at 60 mph.

Unlike the family car, driver’s education cars come equipped with separate controls for the instructor.

Asked if he uses the extra brake occasionally, Simmonds said: “Oh yes, on almost all drivers at some point in time. I’ve even found that sometimes you have to be real careful with your best drivers, because they can lull you into a little sleep situation and you’re not prepared.”

So even with a charge, driver’s education may be one of the best values around.

“I think $75 is real fair,” Heinrichs said. “I don’t really like hearing it either, because I have three kids who are just going to start coming through. But it’s still a bargain.”

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