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Wisconsin-funded driver's education grants aim to reduce reckless driving

Students and members of Common Ground attend a bill signing for state-funded driver's education grants. From left: Khalil Stewart, Jahmorris Torres-Currin, Gov. Tony Evers, Jennifer O'Hear.
Common Ground
Starting in July, over 10,000 eligible high school students can receive a grant for driver’s ed.

It’s been 20 years since Wisconsin has offered state-funded driver’s education courses, but that’s about to change. Starting in July, over 10,000 eligible high school students can receive a grant for driver’s ed. One of those students is Edwin Aviles. Aviles attends Pathways High — a charter school in Milwaukee.

"Being able to afford it will give more people the opportunity to take it," says Aviles. "People can learn road safety and people can adapt to situations."

Making driver’s education more accessible is part of an effort to reduce reckless driving. The initiative was led by Common Ground, a non-partisan group that identifies local issues and proposes solutions to them. Jennifer O’Hear is the lead organizer and executive director at Common Ground. It was during a 5-month community listening campaign when members noted that reckless driving was a recurring concern. 

"We heard stories about older folks who don’t go out at night anymore because they’re too scared," O'Hear says. "We heard stories from younger folks that are getting ready to go on the roads and being nervous about being out there with other people who are not following the rules of the road."

Common Ground partnered with Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson, State Representative Bob Donovan and the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance. That's why O'Hear says:

"We we’re able to get this through the state legislature because we we’re able to make it a bipartisan effort."

Back at Pathways High, School Director and Common Ground member Franz Meyer says the biggest barrier for driver’s education access is the price.

"MPS Drive can be at least $350," he says. "Private driving schools can cost upwards of $650 for driver’s ed. Families come to me and they say, 'we can’t do it, how do we get access to it?’"

The state Department of Transportation will spend $6 million annually to fund the grants. Students who are part of the free and reduced lunch federal program will be eligible for it. Based on state estimates, about 128,000 high school students could apply for the grant and about 13,000 of them would receive it.

Each grant is estimated to cover $400 of driver’s ed costs, leaving students with a remaining cost of about $35. The Department of Public instruction will soon determine how students apply for the grant.

Eddie is a WUWM news reporter.
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