Is it the end of the road for driver ed?Cuts to state funding leave the program in neutral.

"The state is getting out of the traffic safety education business, and the district may too.The Washington State Legislature has eliminated student funding for the program statewide, except for the subsidy to low-income students. The cut leaves the Bainbridge school district with a shortfall to run the program for the approximately 150 high school students who take driver ed each year. Tuition would have to increase from $145 to $450 to close the gap. In the short run we could move to higher tuition, Assistant Superintendent Brent Peterson said at a recent school board meeting. My concern would be: If the state dismantles the infrastructure, where will trained traffic educators come from?One option being considered by the district is the phase-out of traffic safety over 2001-2002, giving the private sector a chance to step in. Many high school students already take driver ed outside the district, board members said.The owner of a private driving school contacted this week for comment, Mike Cassidy of Poulsbo's Diamond Driving Schools, said that while he plans to gear up with more drivers and class sessions, he does not know how big an increase to expect.I'm looking ahead, but I'm still in a holding pattern, Cassidy said. Some high schools will drop their driving programs, but some will just increase the prices they charge students.Dave Kinnunen, Washington state program supervisor for traffic education safety, said other districts are trying various strategies.Some, like the Seattle schools, plan to streamline traffic safety education; Seattle will keep the behind-wheel and classroom components of driver ed and drop driving simulation.Others, like the Grover Park district, may move traffic safety outside the school day, re-classifying it as extracurricular.School districts in Clark County and Vancouver are banding together to form traffic safety co-ops, while South Kitsap School District officials have also expressed interest in forming a co-op, Kinnunen said.Schools that belong to such a co-op will share one coordinator to oversee driving education services delivered by subcontractors.Bainbridge school officials are waiting for the results of a survey undertaken last spring by Bainbridge High School Principal Dave Ellick, assessing student interest in continuing traffic safety education, before making decisions about the program.The driver education program is not central to our mission, but it affects a lot of people, board member Bruce Weiland said.We want to be sure they have an alternative. "

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