Parents of students at McMichael High School in Mayodan were surprised this week when a message appeared on the school website entitled "July Drivers Ed Classroom Instruction is Cancelled."
The note says because the state legislature has not finalized their state budget yet, schools and Driver's Education coordinators will only resume the driving portion of Driver's Ed classes. The written and class components are canceled indefinitely.
The message goes on to explain the district is unsure of the state budget impact on Driver's Ed funding.
The N.C. Senate's proposed budget eliminates funding for Driver's Ed. Currently, the state's Highway Fund pays for most of the costs so, by law, parents don't have to pay more than $55 for the courses offered at their student's high school.
Driver's Education is required for North Carolina teenagers under eighteen to get a license.
The cost could be $300 to $400 or more if the state drops funding.
Robyn Thomas is concerned her son's class was cancelled.
"It's for his safety. Not only for him! For the people he's going to meet on the road. I want him to be safe. I want him to be accountable. I want him to be able to hold a part time job if he's able to do that and get himself back and forth from that job," she explained.
She believes it's unreasonable to suddenly expect families to foot the bill.
"Here in our county, our average income is $37,000 a year. We have a percent percent unemployment rate. So this is going to hit us hard."
She worried teens will attempt to drive without a license or choose to wait until they are 18 to get a license. "I don't want to send him off to college with a new license and no driving experience," she pointed out to FOX8.
Thomas says parents' affordable options are limited, especially in Rockingham County. "There's no driving school in our town, even if we could afford it. And there's no public transportation."
She and other parents started a petition to bring to the General Assembly and express their concerns.
"This should be a priority funding item. Call your senator, let him know where you stand with it, let him know you're concerned about it," Thomas insisted.
Chuch Hawks says the way we train young drivers across the country and in North Carolina needs to be improved altogether.
Hawks is the CEO of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit called Teen Driving Solutions School.
"Driver's Education in this country is an oxymoron today. That's not to take away from anything the educators are doing themselves. It's they don't have the resources, the budget, nor the support to provide anything more than the rules of the road. We at Teen Driving Solutions provide the skills of the road."
The program involves a weekend-long intensive training course. It includes classroom time but mostly focuses on behind-the-wheel training. Parents and their teen attend.
Hawks says the skills they teach can save lives. "4,500 to 6,000 teens die on our roads every year," he pointed out. "If that first crash is the fatal one, look at the damage this does to the family, the community; it's horrible."
Properly training young drivers is not cheap, he pointed out. Hawks said it costs about $2,000 per student, but they constantly seek donations and sponsorships to bring costs down. A full weekend course is $595 to the parent and student.
Their success rates are remarkable, he said. "We've had about 500 students go through our courses in the last three and a half years." He says only one has been in an accident after going through their training.
Teen Driving Solutions is currently offering scholarships to teenagers in the Triad. To qualify, families must have a household income less than $75,000.
The scholarship would cover all but about $100 of the program costs. Applications are available at teendrivingsolutions.org/triad-scholarship.
Anyone interested in sponsoring Teen Driving Solutions can contact them through their website.