BOISE -- The Idaho House Education Committee gave a green light Thursday to a bill that puts a stop to public subsidies for driver's education training courses.
Local school districts that provide driver's education courses currently receive a state subsidy or reimbursement of as much as $125 per student. That's typically about half the cost of the classes; students and their families pick up the remainder.
Rep. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, wants to eliminate the subsidy and have students and parents pay the full cost of the courses, which are required to get a driver's permit before the age of 17.
"This bill doesn't eliminate driver's training in public schools, but it does address our priorities and where we should be putting our money," he said. "I think we should put our money somewhere else."
Several members of the committee wondered why local schools and the state were involved in driver's training at all, given that private companies can provide this service.
"To me, this (bill) looks like an opportunity for entrepreneurial activity in our rural communities," said Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale.
Committee Democrats raised concerns about safety and access. They worried some parents wouldn't be able to afford the full cost of the courses, and this bill could decrease the number of students who get driver's training.
"When you look at the role of government, is it that free enterprise trumps safety or vice versa?" asked Rep. Sue Chew, D-Boise. "I believe the public education system is the right place to provide low-cost, accessible driver's education."
Two private driver's education business owners testified in favor of the bill; the Idaho Education Association and Idaho Rural Schools Association opposed the measure.
"So you think government should be subsidizing this?" asked Rep. Bob Nonini, chairman of the committee.
Harold Ott, executive director of the Rural Schools Association, noted funding for the subsidy comes from fees on certain driver's licenses and permits. He didn't feel that was the same as a direct taxpayer subsidy.
"I support the current system," he said.
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