The days of high school students in driving simulators sending virtual pedestrians scrambling for the sidewalks may be coming to an end in Portage County high schools. Since 1992, when Ohio lawmakers made it optional for schools to offer driver's education, many districts have dropped the program because it is expensive and many students were going to private driving agencies anyway, said Philip Warner, superintendent of Ravenna schools. "We dropped it for economic reasons," he said. "When schools were no longer required to teach driver's education, many school districts across the state dropped it." "Driver's education programs were big money losers for schools," said Wallace Snyder of Wallace Snyder Driving Training in Stow. Less than one-third of Ohio school districts offer driver's education, according to the Ohio Department of Education. Southeast school district is the only district in Portage County that maintains its own driver's education program. A new law taking effect in July governing school driver's education may change that. "I can honestly tell you that we will continue to have driver's education through June 30, and then we'll have to decide from there," said Cassie Bergman, business manager for Southeast schools. The law increases from six to eight hours the amount of behind-the-wheel time schools that still offer driver's education must provide, adding more cost to an already expensive program. "There are a lot of hidden costs in a driver's ed program," said Ben Cowgill, business manager for Kent schools and a former driving instructor. "Not only do you have the cost of textbooks and a classroom instructor like a normal class, you have the requirements of having the cars, car insurance on the cars and in-car instructors which are all outside and beyond the scope of a normal class." Cars equipped for driver's education are more expensive than normal cars, said Jack Evans, administrative assistant at Field High School. "Regulations required you to have a kill switch, extra brake and other electronics, and it became very costly," he said. "We opted a number of years ago that it was a large expense and the state didn't compensate enough." Most county school districts have dropped driver's education completely, including Mogadore, Streetsboro, Field, Kent, Rootstown and Ravenna. Aurora schools have not offered driver's education for years, said James Costanza, superintendent of Aurora schools. "Typically, you can do it much more economically if you do it with a private firm," Costanza said. The State of Ohio pays $50 toward high school driver's classes to defray the cost of training. The money can be applied to school or private instruction. Southeast's program costs $290 per pupil, of which $50 is paid by the state and $50 is paid by the student, said Treasurer Diana Pangallo. Therefore, the district pays $190 per student and the student pays only $50 in lab fees. By comparison, five and a half weeks of instruction _ classroom and driving _ cost $199 at Wallace Snyder Driver Training. If students use the state waiver, their cost is $149.