MADISON — The Wisconsin Assembly voted Tuesday to pass a bill that would provide free driver’s ed grants to thousands of low-income teens.
The state hasn’t funded driver’s ed in 20 years. Broad support among state representatives means the two-decade gap could be closing before the end of the year.
Multiple students have shared the same barrier that’s kept them from learning the rules of the road.
"I would like to know why is it so expensive,” Shankayla Caldwell said.
"My family has to choose, do they want to buy groceries or they wanna let me do driver's ed,” Khalil Stewart said.
"My mom doesn't work, she heavily relies on food stamps so it's hard,” said Jahmorris Torres-Currin.
The cost of driver’s ed is something far too many Wisconsin families can't afford for their teens. Most private programs cost around $450.
State representatives voted Tuesday in an effort to remove that barrier for 15,000 low-income students no matter if they go to public, private or charter schools.
"We have seen a steady decrease over the years in young adults obtaining driver's licenses, especially age 16 to 18,” said Rep. Bob Donovan. “These young adults are the most at risk of auto accidents and may still drive without obtaining a license.”
The state already set aside $6 million to fund the program. That money isn’t coming from taxpayers, but rather funds Wisconsin insurance providers already send the state for industry fees.
The legislation says high school teens would need to provide proof that they qualify for free or reduced lunch at school in order to qualify for a driver’s ed grant.
For driver’s ed instructor Stevie Davis, it doesn’t just mean more business. He says it also means there will be better drivers on the road.
“With them taking driver's ed, they're learning in the classroom and they're getting concepts and themes in the classroom to know what it takes to be a driver on the road, to be safe and defensive out here on the road,” he said.
The bill is now in the hands of the Wisconsin Senate. It’s unclear at this point when they will take up the legislation. However, Governor Tony Evers says he plans to sign it into law.