South Carolina will take in $27 million more than expected from the state lottery this year, and the state's education superintendent wants to spend all of it on new school buses.
"Approximately two-thirds of our fleet are 15 years of age or older, which is the oldest bus fleet in the nation and there actually are still buses that are from model year 1988 still on the road today. And so some parents and their children have the pleasure of having ridden the same school bus," says Jay W. Ragley, spokesman for state superintendent Mick Zais.
The state Senate started its debate on next year's state budget Monday. Zais is hoping senators will spend the $27 million on buses, along with another $10.5 million in one-time capital reserve money. That $37.5 million would buy anywhere from 340 to 380 new buses, depending on the manufacturers' bids, Ragley says.
He says the state's buses are safe, but they do break down and make students late for school or getting home. According to state Department of Education records, for the 2011-2012 school year, the state's 6,058 school buses required service 15,790 times. That averages out to 2.6 repairs per bus.
"It really is not only a matter for students and parents in terms of getting to school on time and getting home on time, it's also a matter for taxpayers," Ragley says. "These older buses are fuel inefficient and they're more expensive to maintain, and so by not replacing buses on a regular schedule you're actually increasing costs to the system overall."
By state law, there are only four things that the lottery money can be used for: college scholarships; libraries; supplemental K-8 programs in reading, math, science and social studies; or school buses.
The legislature passed a law in 2007 that the state should replace 1/15th of its school bus fleet every year, so no bus would ever be more than 15 years old. But it's not a requirement and lawmakers have not put money in the budget to pay for the regular replacement cycle.
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