Driver Education in Tennessee
Author: Dana Spoonmore
A 2022 state law required OREA to study the affordability and availability of driver education in Tennessee, particularly for students in Title I high schools. Driver education was offered in 60 Tennessee school districts during the 2021-22 school year, according to the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE). According to an OREA survey, driver education is offered in 41 percent of Title I high schools during the 2022-23 school year.
OREA found the overall number of districts offering driver education courses has decreased slightly over the past few school years. Reasons cited by district and school officials for not offering driver education included funding concerns, a lack of qualified teachers, a decline in student interest in driver education, and the prioritizing of academics and graduation requirements. For those districts and schools that do offer driver education, most rely on state and local funding sources to cover the costs.
Tennessee state law allocates a percentage of revenue from litigation privilege taxes (imposed on all criminal and civil cases in the state) to TDOE and the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security for the purpose of promoting and expanding driver education and highway safety. TDOE distributes a portion of this revenue annually to districts that offer driver education based on their total number of students enrolled in the course. In fiscal year 2022, over $1.2 million in litigation privilege tax revenue was distributed to 60 districts to help fund driver education. Other possible funding sources for public school driver education are explored in the report.
Private driver education companies are popular alternatives to public school programs. As of May 2022, there were 17 approved driver training and testing programs operating in 10 Tennessee counties. The average minimum fee for these programs (typically including 30 hours of classroom instructional time and six hours of behind-the-wheel training) is $462.67.
The report includes several policy options for the General Assembly and TDOE. These include improving data collection to allow for more thorough studies of the effectiveness of driver education and increasing the percentage of litigation privilege taxes that is earmarked for driver education.