State Journal: Driving mistake; Silent avalanche

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Senator Dan McDonald, chairman of the Washington State Senate's appropriations committee, created considerable controversy this year--and a savings on paper of $10 million-by pushing through a provision eliminating state aid for driver's education for most students.

Although local school systems could have absorbed the state-aid cut, most decided this summer to pass the cost on to students, raising the fee charged for a driving course from $80 to $300, except for students from low-income families.

The resulting public distress apparently has had an effect on Senator McDonald, who is a potential Republican candidate for governor next year. He recently urged school officials to hold off on the tuition hikes and promised to try to restore state funding when the legislature meets early next year.

"I admit making a mistake," Senator McDonald told a local reporter. "We wrote a budget of over $15.5 billion and made a $10-million mistake. That's not a bad batting average."

"What really caught my attention was that people told me what a hardship it would cause on their families," Mr. McDonald added. "We made a lot of judgment calls. This was one that was wrong."

Tennessee Republican lawmakers who pushed for an open-enrollment amendment to Gov. Ned McWherter's education-reform program earlier this year have taken a low profile on the matter after Commissioner of Education Charles E. Smith this summer wrote the three offering to make the counties they represent pilot sites for a school-choice plan.

Commissioner Smith's two-page letter outlined how students in the east Tennessee counties might be given the option of attending either private school or a public school in another district.

"It would be interesting to see how parents would respond to such an opportunity," Mr. Smith wrote. "I look forward to hearing from you and your school system regarding your interest in the voucher system."

But in the weeks since the letter was written, only one of the three legislators has responded that he would be interested in pursuing the experiment, officials in the commissioner's office said last week.

Mr. Smith, who has voiced skepticism about the voucher plan's merits, said the "avalanche of silence" from the lawmakers "causes me to question whether they are really serious about all they have to say in Nashville."

"It makes me wonder if it was all rhetoric," he added.--H.D. & L.H.

Vol. 11, Issue 01, Page 1

Published in Print: September 4, 1991, as State Journal: Driving mistake; Silent avalanche
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