Home schoolers made themselves heard this week before and during a hearing at the House Public Education Committee. Calls were made to the committee in support of HB 339, and some testified at the hearing as well. As I mentioned last week, this bill is an effort to impact the high number of teen driver accidents in Texas. The bill will reinstate the in-car driving test by the DPS for all new drivers, as well as extend limits on new teen drivers from six months to a year. A requirement for more hours of experience behind the wheel has also been included, which studies and experts agree should make teens safer drivers, but whether the schools or parents give the added experience remains to be seen. The requirement that all public schools offer driver education classes received some opposition, and many observers doubt that the provision will become law. SB 1077 by Carona has been filed in the Texas Senate and is a similar measure.
On an interesting note, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) said that, since 1997 when parent-taught driver education was established, the number of public school driver ed students has fallen to about 12% of those receiving driver education, while parent-taught have increased to about 32% and commercial driver education numbers have remained steady at about 38%.
I testified to the committee that the reason we support the bill is because of the requirement that the state track and publish the crash rates of the graduates of every driving school and program. We contend that this is a free-market approach to dealing with the issue. If driver education schools and programs know that they may be judged on the safety records of their graduates, rather than just being certified instructors or accredited schools, they will focus on giving teens the skills and experience they need, rather than just trying to push as many students as possible through their programs. Just as the TEA publishes the standing of each public school in Texas based on the performance of its students, driver education schools and programs should be required to do the same. Then parents could compare the effectiveness of these schools when making their choices.
We will continue to monitor these bills to make sure that no effort to repeal or restrict parent-taught driver education becomes law. The commercial driving school lobby has filed bills in virtually every legislative session since 1995, seeking to eliminate or restrict parent-taught driver education, and they acknowledge publicly that the home school community of Texas has been responsible for thwarting their efforts. We plan to continue to do so with your help.