LAURINBURG — Scotland County has not suspended its driver’s education training like other systems across North Carolina, but without continued state support the local program could end after this school year.
At least one third of North Carolina’s school systems, including Wake and Guilford county schools have already curtailed their driver’s education programs because the General Assembly has been unable to agree on a budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.
Instead state lawmakers have adopted two continuing resolutions that allow spending at the same levels as the fiscal year that ended June 30, with some modifications, so neither state government nor schools have shut down.
But funding for driver’s ed. remains up in the air until lawmakers and Gov. Pat McCrory sign off on a new budget.
“There is a continuing resolution that gives us a temporary budget, but they have not funded driver’s ed as part of that,” said Ron Hargrave, superintendent of Scotland County schools.
The Scotland County school board voted this past spring to set aside enough money to fund the driver’s education for the 2015-16 school year. The school system is unlikely to continue the program the following year without state funding, according to Hargrave.
“The board made a decision that driver’s education is an important component of our community and for our children,” Hargrave said. “We set aside funds to continue it for the coming year, but I don’t know how long we can sustain it.”
Hargrave and other school superintendents meet with state lawmakers about three weeks ago to stress the importance of driver’s ed. after some in the General Assembly floated the idea that driver’s ed. might be removed from public schools and transferred to community colleges. Under such a plan, students would have to pay full cost for the program, costing around $300 per student.
There has also been talk in Raleigh that North Carolina no longer require driver’s education to obtain a license. The state would leave it up to parents to teach children how to drive.
“If we take away driver’s education, it is going to have a negative effect on the community,” Hargrave said. “We have children that can’t afford to go to other places to take driver’s ed and we will have a situation where they will have to decide — do they walk everywhere or do they get behind the wheel of a car without being trained? We all know how disastrous that can end up being.”
Hargrave added that if the state fails to fund the program, Scotland schools may have to consider charging for the program or scraping it as other system have done.
“If they don’t fund it, we will have to make a tough decision,” Hargrave said. “The law allows us to charge up to $60, but for some children that will be impossible.
“We can’t afford to fund it ourselves, so we it puts us in a very difficult situation.”
Scott Witten can be reached at 910-506-3023