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Minn. shutdown would stall drivers in training

Justin Barrientos, 15, from left, Cole Christensen, turning 15 on July 3, and Brandon Engelkes, 14, discuss Wednesday the possible shutdown of state government. The driver's education students in a Willmar Community Education and Recreation Department class conducted at the Willmar Middle School would be prevented from taking a permit test if the state shuts down. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)1 / 2
Driver's education student Bailey Kemp, 15, says she will follow the news this evening to see if a shutdown prevents her from taking her permit test. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)2 / 2

WILLMAR -- Cole Christensen turns 15 on Sunday. Bailey Kemp is already 15. So are several other students in Larry Hastad's driver's education class.

The 20-student class finishes the classroom portion of their training on Friday, and some of them had planned to take their permit tests soon after receiving proof of completion from Hastad.

Depending on what happens today at the State Capitol, that may not happen.

The young drivers in training could be caught up in the political storm brewing in St. Paul, if Republican legislative leaders and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton can't reach agreement on a new two-year state budget by midnight.

Without a new budget to begin the new fiscal year, large portions of state government operations will shut down. Court rulings have ordered the state to keep employees in place to look out for the health and safety of the state's citizens, particularly those who are elderly, ill or disabled.

Law enforcement, courts and corrections functions will also continue to operate. Driver examination offices almost certainly will not.

"It's terrible," Bailey said in class Wednesday morning.

Some of the students who are still 14 had not been paying attention to the recent shutdown news, but Bailey and several of the other 15-year-olds have been. She said she'd probably watch the news with her dad this evening to check on the progress.

Cole said his mom planned his classroom training so that he could finish it just before his 15th birthday and have the information fresh in his mind for the permit test. His parents have been talking about the shutdown, he said.

Jackie Kooistra, who is already 16, asked why the negotiators in St. Paul couldn't just meet in the middle and get it settled. Several other students nodded.

The students had lots of questions about a possible shutdown, including what will be closed down. They asked about hospitals, railroads, passport issuance and Valley Fair. Some asked if schools would be shut down. The answers were no to all of them, none of those things would close.

Some of the students didn't think a shutdown would affect them, but Hastad said they might notice more than they expect.

"It would definitely affect me," he said. Hastad teaches classroom and behind-the-wheel driver's education for the Willmar Community Education and Recreation Department.

If a shutdown lasts a long time, he said, "I wouldn't have anybody to drive with," because he could run out of students who have already obtained permits.

One girl asked if there would be a backlog of students waiting to drive with him. If there's a shutdown, once it's over, Hastad said, "I will be driving as much as I can."

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

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