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News State / Region Cost of learning to drive in Macon County

Students in Macon County will now have to pay for the driver's education course. During the July meeting of the Macon County Board of Education, members unanimously voted to implement a $20 registration fee for the online driver's education course.

According to Macon County's driving instructor Alton Sutton, the school system was responsible for a a nonrefundable $20 registration fee per student to take the online course. "Since we started having to pay for the course in 2011, about 150 students have not completed the course for one reason or another, costing the school system to lose about $3,000," said Sutton.

Sutton mentioned that, by law, the school district could charge up to $55 per person to take the course, but instead of trying to profit from the course, he just wants to make sure the district doesn't lose money.

Macon County school system receives state funds for the driver's education program based on an Average Daily Membership (ADM) allotment. That money goes to cover the cost of the instructor, the online class, and vehicles and general maintenance on the vehicle. By requiring a registration fee, the district will not lose out when students drop out of the course.

Board member Stephanie McCall believes the fee is affordable. “Twenty-dollars kind of puts a vested interest in it. Even if a parent can’t pay it, a lot of kids at that age have a job,” she said.

Students who live in Macon County but who attend Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School pay $245 to take the course. Those students are not included in the ADM allotment. The board instructed Macon County Finance Director Angie Cook to determine if the county receives an allotment for home school students in the district, and if not, those students, who currently take the course free of charge, will also be required to pay the $245 fee.

The Driver's Education program is intended to teach teenagers the ins and outs of driving. All teens are eligible for the course once they reach 14 years and six months of age. Upon completing the course, teenagers can get their learner's permit once they turn 15 years old.

LaRessie Mason thinks that the state's decision to move the course to an online format was a poor one.

"I wish they would offer an in-person course. My daughter has been working on the online course and it is not working well for her," she said. "So if I have to take her to a driving school ... that will cost me $200. I do not mind paying a fee... but I think it is ridiculous that there is no option for students and parents who would prefer a course with an instructor."

Macon County parent Laura O'Neil said she supports the fee because it will act as an incentive and only those that are serious will register.

"I think it’s great, because there won’t be periods of waiting while the program is shut down because of budget restraints like last summer," she said.

Nathan Kolton suggested that if a child completes the course, they should get their money back, a possibility board members discussed. "I think if you are going to make people pay then they should be given a refund if and when the child finishes the course ... those that don't finish should not get a refund," said Kolton.

According to Sutton and school board members, offering the option of a refund would create problems with finances and keeping up with the money and providing a refund for students. Due to the difficulty in approaching the program that way, board members decided against that measure.

The fee will be applied immediately and all future registrants will be required to pay it before completing the program.

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