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Common Ground calls on major auto insurance companies to fund driver's ed for Milwaukee students

affordable driver's ed
Posted at 9:11 PM, May 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-01 06:30:26-04

MILWAUKEE — Reckless driving continues to plague the Milwaukee community. Common Ground Wisconsin is looking for ways to combat the issue, starting with a plan to fund affordable driver's education classes for all Milwaukee high school students.

"I am tired of feeling unsafe when I drive into the streets of Milwaukee," said Common Ground Strategy Team member Brenda McMurtry.

The Milwaukee Police Traffic Safety Unit reported 17,483 traffic crashes, 62 of which were deadly, in 2021. So far in 2022, there have been 6,148 traffic crashes and 22 have been deadly.

"Cars are being used as weapons. Drag races, hit-and-runs, running red lights, running stop signs, running from police and car theft have become habits for some," McMurtry said.

Brenda McMurtry
Brenda McMurtry with Common Ground

According to Common Ground, from 1961 to 2004 the state funded driver's education in Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). But the program ended with budget cuts in 2004.

In 2015, MPS reinstated its program, which costs just $35. Commercial driver's education classes can be hundred of dollars. But the MPS program is only for students in the district and currently doesn't have enough funding to serve all eligible MPS students.

"We need to give our young people the opportunity to learn safe driving practices," McMurtry said.

Common Ground, along with Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson, sent letters to three major auto insurance companies to help fund the MPS driver's ed program and open it up to all Milwaukee students, including those at private and charter schools.

signing letters
Brenda McMurtry and Mayor Cavalier Johnson sign letters to auto insurance companies.

The letter was sent to American Family, State Farm and Progressive, asking them to put $550,000 in to the program each year. Common Ground said those three companies hold 50% of the Milwaukee market.

Common Ground said there's more than just safe roads at stake. Not having a driver's license can make it harder to find a job and to vote. And there are racial disparities among who does and doesn't have a driver's license.

According to a 2016 study from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, just 34% of African American 18-year-olds and 33% of Hispanic 18-year-olds in Milwaukee are licensed. That's compared to 75% of white 18-year-olds.

Aaliyah Hunt is a senior at Pathways High, a charter school in Milwaukee. She's preparing to speak at her's school graduation ceremony and plans on attending UW-Milwaukee in the fall.

"For me, access to a car would be life changing," Hunt said.

Aaliyah Hunt
Aaliyah Hunt, Pathways High senior

Hunt said she has to take the bus to school if she can't get a ride. That often causes her to be late to school. She also works a job after school from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., and if she can't get a ride from school, has to leave class early to ensure she gets there on time on a bus.

On top of all of that, she also pays her own personal bills, like her cell phone bill, and is trying to save for college.

"I tried to get my license, but the cost of a permit is way too much for my family right now," Hunt said. "Help paying for driver's ed would not only help me get a license, but it will help me get to school on time, get to work on time and take care of my family."

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