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Lawmakers slam brakes on $250 drivers ed fee

SPRINGFIELD — State lawmakers have balked at giving school districts districts blanket permission to hike drivers education fees that haven't been increased since 1985.

By Mary J. Cristobal

SPRINGFIELD — State lawmakers have balked at giving school districts districts blanket permission to hike drivers education fees that haven't been increased since 1985.

Lawmakers today rejected, on a 53-62 vote, a plan that would have let schools increase the fee, now set at $50, to $250 on their own. So schools will continue to have to individually ask the state for permission to increase the fee.

State Rep. Sandra Pihos, R-Glen Ellyn, who sponsored House Bill 1071, said, "We're already exempting 37 percent of our districts and giving them permission to have the ability to charge a different amount,"

Pihos said lawmakers rubber stamp most requests, and many schools have permission to charge more than $250.

A former school board member, State Rep. Bob Pritchard, R-Sycamore, said schools need to be given control over their own costs. Pritchard has a similar plan, which would remove the maximum fee amount a school district charges a student for a drivers' education course.

"It needs to be updated to reflect more of the cost of providing driver's education in schools," Pritchard said. "We know that there's some $40 million of cost for providing driver's ed that local school districts have to pay — have to pick up. We think it's only appropriate to raise the fees to a realistic level."

The state recently approved 155 drivers' education fee increase waivers, and there's an additional 19 are pending, according to Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Mary Fergus. The waivers are good for between one and five years.

"So every year we cause school districts to come back to us to seek a waiver to have the ability to charge a more appropriate tuition for these courses," said Pihos.

ISBE supports the plan because it might reduce the waiver requests they make to the state, Fergus said.

"The cost of providing drivers' education is much more than what districts are reimbursed," she said.

Opponents of the idea back away out of fear that the legislation would automatically hike the drivers ed fee.

State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, said the fee hike is not a good public policy.

"I just think that enough is enough," Franks said, "and that we should not be piling on or increasing fees for working families that many of them aren't making ends meet."

 

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