Mayor Johnson calls for universal driver’s education, funded by insurance companies

Jeanne A. Curley
Aaliyah Hunt, senior at Pathways High School, speaks at the Universal Driver Education Campaign that would provide affordable driver education for all eligible high school students in Milwaukee on Tuesday, May 31, 2022 at Milwaukee City Hall in Milwaukee, Wis.

Aaliyah Hunt, senior at Pathways High School, speaks at the Universal Driver Education Campaign that would provide affordable driver education for all eligible high school students in Milwaukee on Tuesday, May 31, 2022 at Milwaukee City Hall in Milwaukee, Wis.

At 17, Aaliyah Hunt is running a tight schedule: attending Pathways High by day, sometimes shepherding her sister to school first, and then working five-hour shifts in the evenings to help her family pay bills and save for college – and to pay for her own bus tickets.

She does it all without a car, relying on buses when her mom can’t give her rides.

“I have an autistic sister and sometimes her (school) bus doesn’t come, so I have to take her to school on the city bus,” Hunt said. “That can make me up to two hours late for school.”

A driver’s license would be “life changing,” she said, estimating she would save 5-6 hours per week. But the cost of driver’s education is out of reach.

On Tuesday, Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson joined community organization Common Ground in calling for universal affordable driver education for all Milwaukee students. They want car insurance companies to fund it.

The group is asking for $1.7 million on an annual basis, divided evenly between three companies, State Farm, American Family and Progressive.

That would allow the Milwaukee Recreation Department to offer free driver’s education to about 5,000 Milwaukee Public Schools students and 1,000 students from other Milwaukee schools each year, leaving students on the hook to pay only the $34 permit fee to get their driving permits.

Brenda McMurtry, strategy team member of Common Ground of Southeastern Wisconsin, and Mayor Cavalier Johnson sign a letter to the CEOs of American Family Insurance, State Farm Insurance and Progressive Insurance asking them for a meeting to discuss providing financial support for an expansion of the MPS Drive Program to provide driver education to all high school students in Milwaukee on Tuesday, May 31, 2022 at Milwaukee City Hall in Milwaukee, Wis.

Brenda McMurtry, strategy team member of Common Ground of Southeastern Wisconsin, and Mayor Cavalier Johnson sign a letter to the CEOs of American Family Insurance, State Farm Insurance and Progressive Insurance asking them for a meeting to discuss providing financial support for an expansion of the MPS Drive Program to provide driver education to all high school students in Milwaukee on Tuesday, May 31, 2022 at Milwaukee City Hall in Milwaukee, Wis.

Johnson signed on to the group’s letter Tuesday at City Hall, flanked by Hunt and dozens of members of Common Ground asking the companies for a meeting to discuss the proposal. The non-profit group tries to find creative solutions to community problems.

He said it was a crucial step toward reducing reckless driving.

“We’ve got serious issues on the roadways here in the city,” he said, “and drivers education is one of the many steps we can take.”

More: ‘I need parents to step up’: Milwaukee city leaders urge residents to do more to reduce violence, reckless driving

American Family told the Journal Sentinel it was interested in learning more about the idea. The other companies didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.

“Ultimately, we want the same result, which is saving lives,” Jim Buchheim, community and social impact officer for American Family, said in a statement. “We welcome the opportunity to discuss the program and other possible solutions.”

Milwaukee Recreation already offers free driver’s education to about 2,000 MPS students each year through MPS Drive, according to the department’s director, Lynn Greb, thanks to funding from the school district. It also serves about 300 other young people each year through its community program, which costs participants about $150.

The demand far exceeds the program’s current capacity, Greb said. For example, 150 students are on a waitlist for this summer’s session of MPS Drive, which is capped at 850 students, plus about 50 on the waitlist for the community program.

In a survey at the end of 2021 of age-eligible MPS students, only 1.4% said they were not interested in taking driver’s education, according to Milwaukee Recreation.

Contact Rory Linnane at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter at @RoryLinnane

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee mayor: Insurance companies should fund universal driver’s ed

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