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Wisconsin cut funding to driver's ed 2 decades ago. Could it be on the way back?

In 2004, the state stopped reimbursing school districts for driver education.
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Posted at 1:45 PM, Jan 18, 2023

MILWAUKEE — One important aspect of making Milwaukee’s streets safer starts with drivers learning the rules of the road. However, Wisconsin has changed what driver's education looks like in school because of funding.

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Student driver vehicles drivers through the parking lot of the DMV on Mill Road in Milwaukee.

In 2004, the state stopped reimbursing school districts for driver's education. So for many districts, it is no longer a class that is taken during the normal school day. For Milwaukee Public Schools, that is around the time Milwaukee Recreation stepped in to help.

"The recreation department, which is affiliated with Milwaukee Public School, took over the lead for driver's education. So we still had it, but it was more of a community program. It was for after school, evenings or during the summer,” said Jodie Donabar, recreation supervisor at Milwaukee Recreation.

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Jodie Donabar, recreation supervisor at Milwaukee Recreation (right) speaks with reporter Rebecca Klopf at Bay View High School's driver's education room. (Jan. 2023)

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction says losing funding caused a lot of districts to drop driver’s ed as a class. For the 421 public school districts in Wisconsin, 114 have approved driver's education programs with certified instructors. It is unclear how those programs are funded, but with only 27 percent of the school districts in the state offering that, it means many families across Wisconsin now have to pay out of pocket for private courses. That led to Milwaukee Public Schools creating 'MPS Drive' through Milwaukee Recreation.

“When MPS Drive was formed it was formed because of the disparity with the individual in the suburbs getting the license versus MPS or inner-city students, because they couldn't afford $350 at the time to get their license,” said Donabar.

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Jodie Donabar, recreation supervisor at Milwaukee Recreation talks about the MPS Drive program.

So if you are an MPS student you can take driver’s ed through MPS Drive and it only costs $35 to go through the program. That is the permit fee.

Gov. Evers told us in December that funding driver's education is a priority.

"We're hopeful to get some resources around the issue of driver's education. That's one of the main areas where we can teach young people to drive appropriately,” said Evers.

MPS Drive says so far the program has put 11,000 teens through driver’s ed since 2017, with about 52% applying to get their license. But there are still waiting lists to get into the program.

"We want them to learn the rules of the road, we want them to be safe on the road. We want them to see tomorrow,” said Donabar.

Gov. Evers' office says they are still considering whether or not funding for driver's education programs would be part of his budget. That will be released on Feb. 15.

TMJ4 reached out to Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, and his office says he was not available.

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