Private, for-profit companies like Sears Authorized Driving School, Inc., teach thousands of students to drive each year.
April 1, 1998 marked the end of the states mandate compelling public schools to
offer drivers education to their students, and some Michigan school districts are
already moving toward privatization.
From 1955 until this year, the state of Michigan directed school districts to provide
drivers education. While districts may now opt not to offer drivers education,
they may still receive the state per-pupil subsidy, which was $73.33 in fiscal year
1996-1997, if they choose to remain in the business of teaching teenagers how to drive.
Privatization can free schools from the costly and onerous task of providing a largely
unnecessary program. For example, Michigans largest private driver training school,
Sears Authorized Driving School, Inc., alone teaches nearly 9,000 teenagers how to drive
each year. The Sears school operates in 18 locations throughout the state, employing 60
Department of Education-certified instructors.
Parents and students use private schools like Sears for a variety of reasons. One is
that most public schools offer drivers education classes only in the summer, whereas
privately run driving schools will teach students just as soon as the law permits. This
fact alone makes private training highly attractive to teenagers eager to earn their
licenses before summer vacation begins. Private drivers training companies in
Michigan charge between $200 and $325 for an intensive three week course that can be
designed around a students schedule.
Another reason parents and students prefer private drivers education courses is
quality. The competitive pressures of the marketplace move entrepreneurs to provide the
best service to their customers at the lowest price, or risk going out of business.
Competition thus ensures higher quality services by providing entrepreneurs with
incentives to be both innovative and responsive to the needs of their consumers. By
contrast, the tax-subsidized public school courses lack such incentives.
Privatization can free schools from the costly and onerous task of providing a
largely unnecessary program.
Privatizing driver education courses also saves money. The Southfield school district
plans to discontinue its driver education program, which last year cost taxpayers $63,486.
Likewise, elimination of driver education in the Grand Ledge district near Lansing is
expected to save $50,000 of school tax money annually. Grand Ledges sister districts
of Waverly and East Lansing may follow suit by shedding their student driving programs as
Schools in Jackson, West Bloomfield, and Hazel Park are taking a different approach.
They plan to charge tuition in order to defray part of the cost of their drivers
education programs. Other schools are considering contracting out with private driver
training firms such as ABC Driving Schools in Detroit.
Even some entrepreneurial teachers are getting into the act. Roger Harkness of Onsted
schools, for instance, has started his own private firm to provide driver training to
students. Grand Ledges former driver education teacher Tandy Preston is already
training student drivers at his new private business.
As tighter budgets force more Michigan school districts to find ways of saving money,
privatization of driver education programs will become an increasingly attractive
alternative. The trend is clear: privatization is driving governments to higher quality
services and greater savings.