NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — There’s an effort to make driver education courses more accessible for Tennessee students. A new report from the state highlights why the course isn’t being offered in all districts.

“This came directly from the children. White Station Station High School and Melrose High School children, before the pandemic, would make a pilgrimage every year to come see me,” said Memphis area state representative G. A. Hardaway, adding the students visited to learn about the legislative process. “Every year that they would come up, the last thing that we will work on was making their lives better. What is it that you want out of a government if you could propose and get it passed? What would that be?”

He said the students expressed the need for drivers ed in public schools and that it should be free.

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“Made sense to me, and I’m one of those adults who did not know that drivers ed was no longer available for free in the public school systems,” said Hardaway.

The Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill requiring the Comptroller’s Office of
Research and Education Accountability (OREA) perform a comprehensive study on the availability and affordability of driver education in Tennessee.

The state comptroller’s office found driver education was offered in 60 Tennessee school districts during the 2021-22 school year and 41 percent of Title I high schools during the 2022-23 school year. They found the overall number of districts offering driver education courses has decreased slightly over the past few school years.

“The advantages are several, the ones that I think are most important, that is it saves lives, save lives, saves injuries, fewer young people are killed, fewer young people are injured in accidents and auto accidents,” said Rep. Hardaway.

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According to the report, more recent studies have linked driver education to fewer traffic crashes, and “though the effectiveness of driver education is disputed,
many Americans believe that it is a vital step in a student driver’s path to full licensure.”

“Those who have access to transportation, and also have the means of driving themselves, often have the advantage when it comes to applying for jobs, employment, and for actually creating jobs as entrepreneurs, they have better economic outcomes when they have the ability to drive — that simple,” said Representative Hardaway.

The report showed that private driver education companies are popular alternatives to public school programs and their average minimum fee is $462.67.

The Tennessee Department of Education distributes litigation privilege tax revenue to districts which comes from fees imposed on all criminal and civil cases. The funding is distributed to districts based on the number of students enrolled in the driver education courses.

Rutherford County Schools topped the list of ten districts with highest number of students participating in driver education with were more than 3,000 students enrolled in drivers ed last school year. That resulted in over $270,000 allocated to that district from the state.

“Rutherford County, man, it’s unbelievable — 3000+ children served that are getting over a quarter million dollars for their program,” said Representative Hardaway. “I compliment them on the good work they’re doing. And, I’ll be talking to their legislative delegation to try to find out how they’re making that happen.”

The state comptroller’s office revealed that the reasons cited by district and school officials for not offering driver education included a lack of qualified teachers, a decline in student interest in driver education, the prioritizing of academics and graduation requirements, and funding concerns.

“Yeah, that’s not a reason. That’s an excuse,” said Rep. Hardaway about the funding concens. “Those principals, those superintendents would know better than I or my colleagues what that budget looks like, for those LEAs. And they should have done something about it before now.”

Bedford County was the only other Middle Tennessee county named in the report for being in the top ten for most students taking drivers ed. They had 277 students participate in the 2021-22 school year with a state allocation of $24,068.53.

Representative Hardaway has a number of ideas for addressing making drivers ed more accessible so he says he’ll take them to the young people who prompted the bill so they can help find a solution to the issue they brought to the table.

Read the full report HERE.