RALEIGH, N.C. — Teens and parents could soon be footing the bill for driver's education classes.
The budget passed by the state Senate last weekend eliminates state funding for driver's education courses at public schools statewide, starting next summer, meaning parents and teens might have to start footing the cost of the training.
The state law requires 30 hours of classroom work and six hours of behind-the wheel instruction for anyone under 18 to get a driver's license.
Until 2011, the state picked up the whole tab for driver's ed. Then the budget cuts forced school districts to start charging fees for the classes.
Now, classes in Wake County cost teens $55. Eliminating the state subsidy altogether could drive the cost as high as the $300 to $400 charged for private instruction, unless districts are able to shuffle local funds around to cover some of the expense.
"I'm just wondering how they're going to pull that off with driver's ed being required for kids to get their permit," said Toni Talton, whose 15-year-old daughter is getting her permit. "I know a lot of families won't be able to afford driver's ed."
Destiny McClane, 17, said she isn't sure she could afford the higher cost but added that she can't afford not to have a license.
"My mom works a lot, so with me getting ready to get my license, it will help her a lot more when she's at work. My sisters will need rides from school," McClane said.
Devin Tanner, who oversees the driver's ed program for the Wake County Public School System, said studies show teen drivers who go through a graduated license program, including driver's ed classes, have fewer fatal accidents than those who don't and simply get their licenses after they turn 18.
"If families have to pay more, some families may opt to hold their kids back until they're 18 years old, and they become part of that statistic," Tanner said. "There's no substitute for good instruction, especially when there's no experience on the kids' part."
Driving instructor Jimmy Ray said he likewise worries about increased fatalities among teen drivers in North Carolina if driver's ed becomes more of a luxury item.
"Is that a road we want to go down?" Ray asked.