Gross: Lack of driver’s ed programs putting families in a pinch

Jun 8, 2023, 6:00 PM

driver's ed programs...

Driving on US 195 interstate highway. (Photo by Francis Dean via Getty Images)

(Photo by Francis Dean via Getty Images)

For the first time in over 20 years, Ferndale Public Schools will not be offering driver’s ed programs for students. The program was suspended indefinitely after a situation involving accreditation with the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

This has drawn ire from members of the community who just want options for helping their students learn to drive. Gone are the days when most schools offered these programs as a part of a comprehensive education.

The Washington State Department of Licensing requires students under the age of 15-and-a-half to show a certificate of enrollment from a driver’s ed training school in order to obtain an instruction permit. The school-based programs used to be widespread throughout the state but have been reduced to just 32 accredited school districts that offer traffic safety programs.

The cuts to these programs began in 2002.

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“The Legislature ended the funding for school traffic safety education,” Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction spokesperson Katy Payne told The Jason Rantz Show on AM 770 KTTH. “Without the funding, school districts could not afford to send teachers to the training program, which in turn caused the training program to close due to lack of enrollment.”

One parent named Katie told The Jason Rantz Show that the lack of affordable options has created a dilemma. The program used to be offered for free.

“I thought this was awesome as everyone is pretty broke in my area,” she said. “Our only option is for private driver training school, which is pretty expensive … it’s just ridiculous.”

A private driving school in Whatcom County offers the full state-required 30 hours of training and six hours of driving instruction. The cost of this program is $500 — which is somewhat standard for basic instruction around the area.

Other programs run a lofty price tag of up to $4,000 for what is considered ‘advanced training.’

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“It is still our hope to one day offer a program to our students again, and we will continue to actively explore other options,” Ferndale SD executive director of communications Celina Rodriguez told The Jason Rantz Show on AM 770 KTTH.

The Ferndale Public Schools budget lists an $80,000 expenditure for the traffic safety program during the 2022-23 school year. The costs of running the district have continued to rise.

It is unfortunate that FPS and many other districts statewide can’t carve out a little bit in their budget to support these driver’s ed training programs. Getting your driver’s license is a rite of passage for many teens. Now parents have no other option but to foot the bill.

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Gross: Lack of driver’s ed programs putting families in a pinch