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White Station High School students fight for driver's education classes in title one schools

“We want you to drive because it’s hard to drive around in Memphis. Lack of transportation is a huge issue,” said Erika Sugarmon.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Roads can be dangerous to drivers and before getting behind the wheel, many people will go through driver's ed to get a license.

However according to a recent report by the state Comptroller of the Treasury, it is getting harder to do. As the number of school districts offering driver's ed decreases, while the number of deadly car crashes involving drivers under 20 has increased.  

After losing its driver's ed class due to a lack of funding, White Station High School students and their teacher are trying to get them back.

After hearing that one of her students would be losing his license before even getting one, Erika Sugarmon asked her class who out of them had a license.

“A lot of them said no, they do not have a driver’s license, and then one student told me, yes I do but I’m terrified of driving,” said Shelby County Commissioner Erika Sugarmon.

White Station was one of several schools in Memphis and the state that does not currently offer driver's ed. During the 2021-22 school year, only 60 districts received funding, and the students at White Station wanted this to change. Sugarmon began drafting a bill which would provide drivers-ed in all title one schools in Tennessee.

“They’re calling their lawmakers, they were sending them emails, they created a petition,” said Sugarmon.

This really resonated with lawmakers, even throughout the pandemic. A study was later conducted by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury justified this need last week.  Now, the students are waiting for Gov. Bill Lee to sign off, but in the meantime, Sugarmon is working to secure the funds.

“Our ask is going to be to the federal government to earmark the money so it passes through the state and then come directly to Shelby County,” said Sugarmon.

One of the goals of this bill is to address driving habits at an early age, helping cut down on financial barriers impacting many Memphis drivers.

“So many people are locked into poverty, just like my former student, the reason why he was out there driving without a license was because he was trying to support his family,” said Sugarmon, “We want you to drive because it’s hard to drive around in Memphis, lack of transportation is a huge issue.”

A lot of the current driving habits are being attributed to a lot of current drivers being self-taught due to the lack of available driver's ed classes.

“What we’re seeing on the Memphis roads is drivers teaching themselves, they’re self-taught, but they’re not knowledgeable, they’re not educated on safe driving principles, how to scan your mirrors,” said Caswell Group Driving School owner Teresa Landrun.

Landrun has been trying to make a local impact on drivers in the Frayser community after she opened up her driving school. 

Landrun said her school is currently in negotiations to bring driver's ed classes to Martin Luther King High School and Freedom Prep.

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