Why should district offer driver's ed?

The South Kitsap School Board last week reluctantly took the only course of action open to it by canceling its driver’s education program.

According to school district officials, the program had been more or less self-supporting up until the 2001-02 school year, at which point the state Legislature voted to stop subsidizing it. Since then, fees for students taking the class shot up from $160 (or $94 for low-income students) to $285 ($100 for low-income).

Even at this rate, the school district projected it would lose almost $40,000 on the program this year, hence the decision to pull the plug.

Predictably, this led to criticism of state lawmakers. “If we cut this program,” said school board member Jim Huff, “parents will call us and we can direct them to who the bad guy is — (State Sen.) Bob Oke, (Rep.) Lois McMahan and (Rep.) Patricia Lantz.”

While we can appreciate Huff’s eagerness to shift the blame to some other politician, it’s hard to imagine how the Legislature could have addressed the state’s current fiscal problems without making across-the-board budget cuts. Certainly education funding is an important priority, but so is transportation. So is public health. So are the environment, law enforcement and parks.

Pretty much everything the state funds to one degree or another are of vital importance to someone but — absent a tax increase, which no one would stand for — there’s only just so much money to be spent on them.

Under the circumstances, losing driver’s education doesn’t seem like a huge sacrifice to make. Commendable though it may be, it’s still possible for youngsters to learn how to drive safely without taking the class. That makes the driver’s ed program a luxury at a time when the district is having enough trouble just funding the essentials.

Moreover, even before the recent fee increases, private companies were providing driver’s education classes. Why should the state provide a taxpayer-funded subsidy so its school systems can compete unfairly against private businesses?

In short, it may have taken a financial hardship to get the school board’s atention, but if the result is the loss of a program the district couldn’t afford and probably shouldn’t have been offering in the first place, that’s something we’ll just have to learn to live with.

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