Politics & Government

Why SC finally can ditch some of its old, fire-prone school buses

More than 200 of South Carolina’s oldest, most fire-prone school buses will be replaced by the next school year.

The state Senate voted 44-0 Tuesday to override Gov. Henry McMaster’s veto of $20.5 million to cover the cost of buying 210 new school buses. The House voted to override the governor’s veto last week.

That money will help the state cut the number of fire-prone 1995 and 1996 buses in operation to 349, better ensuring the safety of thousands of S.C. students who take the bus to school each day.

The new buses also will help address the state’s aging school-bus fleet. More than 3,000 of the 5,600 state-owned school buses are 15 years or older, including 788 buses built before 1995.

The new buses will be distributed across the state with each school district getting new buses by fall, said S.C. Department of Education spokesman Ryan Brown.

“I’m very excited and appreciate the strong vote in the Senate,” said state schools Superintendent Molly Spearman, R-Saluda. “We’re going to place the order now, and we hope to see some more new buses rolling into South Carolina very soon.”

McMaster vetoed the money in June of last year, saying it should come from a more sustainable source, not the S.C. Lottery and its pot of unclaimed prize money. He also argued that voters, when they approved the lottery in 2000, did not want lottery profits spent on school buses but on college scholarships.

However, the lottery law does say some of its profits can be used to buy or repair school buses. More than $145 million in lottery money has been used to buy new school buses since the lottery was started.

McMaster has recommended spending more on school buses.

In his 2018-’19 executive budget proposal, he recommends doubling – to $10 million – the money that the Education Department gets each year for new buses.

However, the Education Department has asked the state for $70 million in additional money to replace old buses.

Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, thanked his colleagues Tuesday for seeing through the “false spin” that McMaster used to justify his vetoes.

“Today, senators took two votes that could well save children’s lives,” he said. “That is a good feeling and a good day’s work. I only wish that these much-needed funds hadn’t been vetoed and the money would have been available six months ago.”

Maayan Schechter: 803-771-8657, @MaayanSchechter