As schools end driver's ed, businesses are ready to step in

The number of commercial driving schools in Wichita likely will increase as the school district winds down its driver's education program.

That's the opinion of local driving school owners and a state official who oversees driver's education.

Monday night the Wichita school board voted to cut 117 positions, including all 14 of the district's driver's education teachers.

The program serves about 1,500 students and will end at the conclusion of this year's summer session.

The cuts come as the district tries to make up an estimated $25 million shortfall.

Driving school owners such as Mike Johnson think that'll mean more business for his nearly 7-year-old company, Wichita Driving School.

"I'm thinking there's going to be a bump this year," said Johnson, whose company had more than 1,000 students attend one of its courses last year. "The big bump will come next year."

He's not certain how many more students his company, which employs 10 part-time instructors, will get. He said whatever it is, he should be able to accommodate them.

Bill Kennedy, the Topeka-based owner of Drive Right School of Wichita and several others across the state, said he expects to see an increase in students, but he didn't have any idea how many.

"I guess we'll have to wait and see," Kennedy said.

Kennedy and Johnson said they don't expect to get all the students who go through public driver's education. That's because they think there will be students whose parents can't afford to send them to private driver's education.

"There will probably be a number" of them, said Kennedy, who's had a driving school here for more than 13 years.

High school students taking the program through Wichita schools paid $216. Students who qualified for free or reduced-price lunches paid a reduced rate.

According to the websites of Kennedy's and Johnson's schools, the cost for their programs ranges between $351 and $375.

Driver's education "is going to be available. There's just not going to be help for the lower income and folks who can't afford that," said Joan Peterson, director of driver education and motorcycle education for the Kansas State Department of Education.

Peterson oversees driver's education for public schools and commercial driving schools.

She said it's only a matter of time before new driving schools emerge in Wichita. She said she's already taken phone calls from people interested in starting schools here.

"I think that will probably happen," Peterson said. "I think two or three more will spring up there."

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