MILWAUKEE — In just a few days, more than 1,000 Milwaukee Public School students will be able to register for free driver's education classes.
Come this fall, the program will double the number of teens it will serve, from 500 to 1,300. That's thanks to COVID funding and three learning options: in-person, online, and hybrid.
MPS students between the ages of 15 and 17 will only have to pay $35 compared to $400. The fee goes directly to purchasing their permit when they pass, which means the class and behind-the-wheel training is free.
"It was super expensive, especially for a single parent like me," said Pansy Williams, a parent of MPS teens.
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Williams has two teens eager to get behind the wheel. Enrolling them in driver's ed would normally cost hundreds of dollars. But, they are the latest MPS students to take part in a partnership with MKE REC. It's called "MPS Drive."
"They've been working hard to save their money for driving school. To know that MPS is offering it for free, they are excited," Williams said, smiling.
So far, 10,000 students have gone through the program.
More funding this year will allow an additional 1,300 students to take part in the program this fall. Either in-person, online, or hybrid.
"The rules are so important to know and do them correctly," said Jodie Donabar, MKE REC Driver's Education Supervisor.
Donabar said the program was created to address disparities.
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.
Donabar said programs like these will go a long way to also help with reckless driving among teens.
"I think this is a part of the solution. It's not the complete solution," Donabar said.
"Now these teenagers will get the proper training to properly drive with others on the streets," added Williams.
Both Williams and Donabar believe there is hope for safer streets.
"When we have safer drivers, the community is the one that benefits," Donabar said.
Registration for the fall program opens on Aug. 2.