Mick Zais is the most fiscally conservative education superintendent in recent memory, so when he tells legislators where extra education dollars should be spent, they should listen. This year he asked for $46 million for new school buses.
Clearly they are needed, based on the state’s unenviable record of having the oldest school bus fleet in the nation. But the House declined to provide much relief, approving only $10.5 million for new buses in the state budget for the next fiscal year.
That figure didn’t include any lottery money, as supposedly required by law. That’s not surprising, since the Legislature has generally ignored that mandate, as well as the law it passed in 2007 that requires regular replacement of the school bus fleet.
But the state Senate has a chance to make amends, thanks to an unexpected uptick in lottery earnings announced on Thursday by the Board of Economic Advisors. According to the BEA, the state Education Lottery should generate an extra $27 million this year, and another $7 million next year.
The House may be done with its version of the budget, but the Senate began budget deliberations Monday. Dr. Zais’ recommendation should get the consideration it deserves.
Only regular replacement of school buses will reduce the high cost of keeping South Carolina’s aging bus fleet on the road. And it would eliminate the periodic need for the Department of Education to buy used buses from other states.
What better example is needed?
Bus funding is so limited in South Carolina that the education department has been forced to buy buses discarded by other states just to keep the system operational.
Only the Legislature can provide the funding for additional buses. The Senate should take the lead, given the unexpected opportunity by the increase in lottery revenues.
The Legislature should recognize that school bus replacement is a safety issue. Guaranteeing that children can get to school safely and in a timely manner should be a priority for the Legislature.
But if they need reminding, Dr. Zais will certainly be glad to make the case.
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