Wisconsin to Provide Free Driver Education to Students in Need

As the head of Pathways High in Milwaukee, Franz Meyer encounters students inquiring about driver’s education options on a regular basis.

Meyer notes that students express a desire to learn to drive, but available choices are constrained and often too costly.

“I used to suggest various places, but they had limited spots or required a fee of $350,” Meyer explained. “This led some youth to take the risk and drive without proper training.”

He highlighted that the expenses for driver’s education classes vary between $100 and $400.

Potential assistance may be on the horizon. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) is set to introduce a no-cost program aimed at delivering driver’s education to financially challenged high school students in Wisconsin.

The enactment of Wisconsin Act 86, approved by Gov. Tony Evers in early December, allocates $6 million for driver’s education.

As per the Wisconsin Department of Administration’s fiscal evaluation, an estimated 10,000 to 13,300 students will qualify for driver’s education grants under the initiative.

Common Ground Initiates Campaign

The grant program is a direct outcome of Common Ground’s three-year initiative, which originated following a listening session organized by the group in 2021.

Common Ground, a nonpartisan organization, empowers residents to identify community challenges and collaboratively seek solutions.

Jennifer O’Hear, the primary organizer and director of Common Ground, foresees availability of funds by July.

Officials from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation refrained from disclosing the timeline for fund availability and the process for students and families to access them for driver’s education, citing that the program is currently in the developmental phase.

Addressing Community Concerns

Common Ground responded to the concerns of 982 individuals who identified reckless driving as their primary worry.

“Numerous incidents in this area (Milwaukee’s Sherman Park) involve inexperienced young drivers causing accidents,” mentioned Frank Finch, a Common Ground campaign participant.

Transitioning from acknowledging residents’ anxieties to formulating solutions, Common Ground advocates driver’s education as a vital tool to combat reckless driving.

O’Hear highlighted the previously funded driver’s education period in Wisconsin from 1961 to 2004.

Despite historical support, the state mandates that individuals under 18 must enroll in a driving program to obtain a learner’s permit and provisional license.

“There exists a generation of young individuals who lack driving skills due to the absence of driver’s education access,” asserted Finch.

Meyer from Pathways High, who has held his role for six years, participated in the campaign alongside students, including Shankayla Caldwell, who faced obstacles due to driver’s ed expenses.

“The high costs of driver’s ed have made it challenging for me to pursue,” Caldwell expressed. “I’ve been eager to drive, but the prices have delayed my progress.”

Based on a 2016 study by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Employment and Training Institute, only 30% of 18-year-olds in Milwaukee possess a driver’s license compared to the 66% state average.

Furthermore, the study indicated that only 30% of African American and Hispanic 18-year-olds hold driver’s licenses versus 75% of white counterparts.

Common Ground leaders identified sustained funding for student driver’s education as a strategic approach to address reckless driving during community listening sessions.

O’Hear and Finch shared that the campaign picked up momentum upon meeting Andy Franken, president of the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance, an advocacy group representing the property and casualty insurance sector.

“Upon reviewing the data and anecdotes pertaining to Milwaukee and statewide driver’s education, I recognized the significance of supporting this cause,” stated Franken.

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