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CMS Driver's Ed Set To End Sept.1, Driving School Says

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Diedra Laird/Charlotte Observer
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Instructor Jim Smith of Jordan Driving School and student Montray Porter during drivers education at Myers Park High School earlier this summer.

Charlotte Observer

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will stop offering driver’s education on Sept. 1 unless a state budget comes through with money for the program, according to the company that provides the classes.

A CMS spokeswoman said Wednesday that no decisions would be made until Aug. 31. But a statement on the website and answering machine for Jordan Driving School indicates the shutdown has been set in motion.

“In light of the legislature’s failure to enact a budget, CMS has directed JDS to cease all driver education activities effective September 1, 2015. This directive will be in effect until the issue of driver education funding is finalized,” the statement says.

Jordan is making sure all students currently enrolled finish their lessons by the end of this month. The company is not offering classes to new students until the state approves a budget, said Chuck Lehning, CEO of the Charlotte operation, which employs about 70 instructors.

“I guess you’d say we’d be shut down unless they do something with the budget,” he said Thursday.

But Kathryn Block, the district’s chief communication officer, says it’s not clear that school districts can legally end their programs. That’s why the district refers to it as a “pause,” she said.

On Tuesday, after Jordan Driving School posted a similar announcement on its Wake County site, the Wake district announced that it is suspending its driver’s ed program at the end of this week.

CMS contracts with the private company to provide driving lessons for almost 12,000 Mecklenburg students a year. State law requires school districts to provide the program for all students, including those who attend private, charter or home schools. Students pay $55 for the classroom work, and CMS passes along $192 per student in state money for on-the-road instruction, Lehning said.

The state House and Senate are still working on a 2015-16 budget, even though the budget year started July 1. They have passed two continuation budgets to avoid a government shutdown, with the latest running through Aug. 31. Those temporary budgets don’t include money for driver’s education, and no one is sure how the situation will play out. If the state money is cut, lawmakers might end the requirement that districts provide driver’s ed or might allow them to pass along the full cost to families.

It also remains unclear whether the House and Senate can reach agreement this month or will pass another extension. If there’s no budget by Aug. 31, Block said, there will be no students enrolled until there’s an answer.

Lehning said CMS passes along $160,000 to $200,000 a month in state driver’s education money, depending on enrollment. Block said she didn’t know the amount, but said the district hopes the budget will include retroactive payment for driver’s ed spending in July and August.

Lehning said he hopes lawmakers will continue state-funded driver’s education.

“If North Carolina were to go down the road of not having driver’s education ... the states that have done that, their teen crash rates and death rates went up,” he said.