Commercial schools favor putting the brakes on pending bill
August 12, 2012 8:04PM
Tri-Country Driving School drivers education teacher Debbie Rodriguez prepares a class with questions prior to a written test on driving. August 8, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 14, 2012 6:07AM
Pending legislation would put new requirements on commercial driving school instructors, including those who want to contract with public schools.
The cost of driver’s ed was at least part of the reason behind Senate Bill 3367, according to its sponsor, state Sen. Susan Garrett, D-Lake Forest.
“As the costs for driver’s education continue to escalate, we have seen that teenagers are opting out of taking driver’s education courses. It is critical that we rein in the costs and, at the same time, ensure that we have safe and accountable driving education programs throughout the state,” Garrett has said as the reason for the legislation.
The bill would require a commercial driving school instructor to get the same certificate and endorsement to teach in order to contract with a public school district. The bill went to Gov. Pat Quinn for his signature on June 26.
That requirement likely wouldn’t impact schools in this area. Illinois State Board of Education spokesman Tim Murphy said only eight school districts contract out their driver’s ed instruction to private schools now. They include Genoa-Kingston Community Unit School District 424 and districts in Rock Island, Boone, Ogle and Winnebago counties.
The bill also would require the ISBE and the secretary of state to work together to adopt course content standards for what topics must be taught to teenagers enrolled in driver’s ed, Murphy said.
That would impact both public and commercial schools, including Tri-County Driving School based in Elgin.
Murphy said it’s too soon to speculate what those standards might look like. “It’s really early in the process,” he said.
But that’s the part that worries Charles Horton, owner and operator of Tri-County Driving School.
While the bill doesn’t say if those standards will result in more costs for both public and commercial driving schools and instructors, it doesn’t say it won’t either, he said. The only stated cost in the bill is an annual inspection for driver’s ed vehicles older than five model years or with more than 75,000 miles.
“What they say is the aim is to bring us up to the same level, to the same standard,” he said. “Our argument was we’re kind of above the standard already.”
And the result could eliminate private jobs and commercial driving schools, according to Horton. He pointed to information from the Illinois Commercial Driver Training School Association, which also is opposed to the bill. (Meantime, the Illinois Education Association has expressed support for it.)
From 2007-10, there were 31 fatal car accidents in Illinois involving teenagers trained at commercial driving schools, compared to 178 teenagers trained at public schools, according to the association. During the same years, there were 6,652 injury accidents involving teenagers trained at commercial schools, compared to 185,000 with teens who went through public school courses.
“Why fix it if it’s not broken?” Horton asked.
— Emily McFarlan