Commentary: The urgent need for driver’s education in public schools

By Sen. Cory McCray

Sen. Cory McCray is a Maryland State legislator representing the 45th District, which encompasses Northeast and East Baltimore City. A proud graduate of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 24, Sen. McCray is dedicated to empowering youth, advocating for equitable education and fostering strong communities. (Courtesy photo) Credit: Courtesy Photo

As a father of four school-aged children thriving in public schools, I see firsthand the incredible potential within our youth. However, I also witness the challenges they face due to a lack of essential resources and opportunities. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that each young scholar has the exposure and resources to reach their full potential. Investing in our young scholars is not just an educational imperative; it is a moral obligation and a cornerstone for the future prosperity of our community.

In January 2024, I had the honor of speaking at Career Day with Ms. Riddle’s class at Achievement Academy High School. While sharing my journey as an electrician, entrepreneur and Maryland State senator, I posed a question to the students: “If you were senator for a day, what would you change or implement?” Their responses highlighted the need for free driver’s education in public schools. 

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I left the discussion reflecting on a time when driver’s education was a standard part of the curriculum in Maryland schools and questioning why such an important resource was removed.

Schools serve as the beating heart of our neighborhoods. They are more than just places for academic learning– they are hubs of community engagement, support and growth. When we invest in our schools, we are investing in the very fabric of our communities. This investment must be comprehensive, encompassing not only traditional academic subjects but also essential life skills that prepare our children for the future.

One critical area that demands our attention is driver’s education. In Maryland, an individual must be 15 years and 9 months old to obtain a learner’s permit, yet many public schools do not offer driver’s education. This gap leaves many young people without the means to gain a driver’s license, which is crucial for their mobility and independence. A driver’s license opens up numerous opportunities for young people, giving them a head start even before graduation. It is a gateway to jobs, apprenticeships and broader participation in society.

As a strong advocate of apprenticeship programs and a proud graduate of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 24, I know the importance of having a driver’s license. Many apprenticeship programs require applicants to have a driver’s license as it is essential for job site access and work-related travel. This requirement is a frequent topic of discussion during the annual apprenticeship tours hosted by myself and the College Bound Foundation. By offering schools the option to partner with a non-profit to provide driver’s education, we not only prepare our students for the workforce but also equip them with a vital skill that enhances their independence and opportunities.

Inspired by the feedback from Ms. Riddle’s students, I sponsored Senate Bill 1081, which aims to establish the Driver Education in Public Schools Grant Program. This legislation provides $2 million in perpetual grants to assist public schools in offering driver education courses, particularly in schools with a concentration of poverty of 40 percent or higher. The public school and a non-profit organization will work in partnership to offer the course. This initiative is a direct response to the voices of our students and a significant step towards addressing their needs.

In March, Mrs. Riddle and a few of the students who championed this idea made their case in Annapolis, delivering testimony to the Education, Energy and the Environment Committee, chaired by Sen. Brian Feldman (D) and vice-chaired by Sen. Cheryl Kagan (D). Their efforts paid off when Gov. Moore signed this legislation on May 16, with the bill going into effect on July 1. This success story highlights the power of listening to our young scholars and taking decisive action based on their insights.

While the passage of Senate Bill 1081 is a significant milestone, it is just the beginning. Our public education system requires a comprehensive reassessment. We must address the disparities in funding and resources to ensure every child receives an education that equips them for the future. We need to look beyond mere survival in our educational institutions and aim for excellence that nurtures the full potential of our students.

Investing in our young scholars is not just about funding; it is about believing in their potential and providing them with the tools they need to succeed. By listening to our young scholars and addressing their needs, we can create a more equitable and effective educational system. It’s time to make good on the promise of a world-class education for all students because our children deserve nothing less. Let us stand together, invest boldly in our future and ensure that every young scholar has the opportunity to thrive.