Budget deal to replace several hundred failing school buses, increase dollars toward public schools

Budget deal to replace several hundred failing school buses, increase dollars toward public schools

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The latest deal on how to spend $8 billion of state tax dollars includes putting about $3 billion toward public education in South Carolina.

That includes measures like spending more money per child in schools for grades K through 12 and putting more money towards buying new buses. There's a proposed $75 per student increase, and also about $28 million to replace the older school buses some call dangerous.

Tales of bus malfunctions are familiar to Kershaw County schools' staff.

"A hose burst and burnt some students. That's happened on a couple of our buses. Luckily no one got hurt," Director of Operations Billy Smith says.

About one-fourth of their bus fleet includes buses aged 20 years or older. So, it's good news some here could be replaced.

The Department of Education plans to use the new funding to lease 116 new buses and purchase 298; that still leaves more than 500 older models on the road.

"And when you spread those out, that's not many buses being replaced," Smith says.

"I've got to keep fighting for this every year, and have the commitment of the legislature to keep this support for a replacement cycle each year," State Superintendent Molly Spearman says.

Districts also had hoped there could be enough of a base-student raise to afford to pay teachers more. There is an increase of $75 per student going to districts.

"But I want the public to understand that the districts still, they lost some money. They lost some technology money. They're going to have to increase their pension and health benefits," Spearman says.

But in Kershaw County, for example, it's not enough. Superintendent Frank Morgan says he's just hoping the legislature can work out more funding, with longer term goals for schools the following year.

"We have a wagon to pull and the state keeps putting stuff in that wagon, and that wagon's getting heavier and heavier and we're going onto muddier and muddier roads, but we're only doing it with the same number of horses to pull. And I kind of wonder when we're going to reach the limit," Morgan says.

The full House and Senate will still have to vote on the proposed budget before it is set in stone. Each is set to meet in a special session on Tuesday and will likely vote on the budget.

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