Prince George's State Sen. Edward T. Conroy led a band of public school teachers and students into the Senate Finance Committee hearing room today in an effort to save the state's driver education programs from what Conroy called "the hit parade of abolition."
The General Assembly voted two years ago to withdraw state support for the programs on July 1, 1980, after deciding that it was not worth spending $4 million in state funds to train high school students in the art of driving. Conroy and other suburban Washington legislators have been attempting to revive the programs ever since.
"If we withdraw from the programs, the teachers will pack up and leave the state and driver education will die," said Conroy, whose county has more students in the programs, and receives more state aid for them, than any other. "This will only penalize the young persons whose most important concern when they reach age 16 is to obtain a Maryland driver's license."
Maryland law requires potential drivers to attend accredited driver education programs before they receive their licenses. The state reimburses the schools and commercial enterprises that conduct the programs at the rate of $65 a student. The state money comes from highway user revenues -- such as the gasoline tax -- and from the $15 licenses fees.
If the state withdraws that support, it would be up to each of Maryland's 23 counties and Baltimore City to provide more of their own money to keep the programs in operation at their present level. Conroy argued that Prince George's would be unable to fund the program because of the fiscal restraints of the county's recently enacted property tax levy freeze.
According to statistics provided by the legislature's fiscal services office, Prince George's has 13,840 high school-age students in the program and receives $899,000 in state aid. Neighboring Montgomery County has the second largest program, with 11,345 students and a state reimbursement of $737,425.