S.C. budget negotiators reached a deal late Wednesday that includes spending $28.9 million to buy or lease new school buses.
The aging buses represent a fire hazard for S.C. students, the state Department of Education says. Seventeen buses have caught fire or dangerously overheated since August 2015.
The added $28.9 million will allow the Education Department to buy 298 buses and lease another 116 new buses, according to the agency. Buying a school bus costs about $80,000.
Aging buses still will transport children back and forth to school. Even with the added money, the Education Department will be operating almost 1,000 buses that are more than 20 years old.
S.C. budget negotiators also agreed to spend:
▪ About $68 million to pay for Hurricane Matthew repairs and aid
▪ About $60 million to increase to $2,425 a student the amount that S.C. schools get based on their enrollment. While up $75 a student from this year, per-pupil funding still is about $500 a student short of the amount that state law says schools should get.
▪ $35 million more to S.C. ETV to pay for facilities projects, including building and transmission tower upgrades. The money comes from ETV’s $43.2 million sale of unneeded airwave space associated with its Greenville market station.
▪ $12 million more for S.C. colleges, including $2 million for the University of South Carolina
▪ $10 million more for the state’s Local Government Fund, about $100 million less than the fund should get, according to state law. That money goes largely to S.C. counties who are tasked with delivering state services, including housing local offices of state agencies. The added money partially offsets a one-time $12 million boost in local government money that lawmakers approved for this year.
▪ $1 million more for a program that gives tax credits to taxpayers if they donate to a state program to help children with disabilities pay private-school tuition or if they pay that tuition out of their own pocket.
Legislators plan to return to Columbia Tuesday to approve the budget compromise for the state’s fiscal year that starts July 1.
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