The recent delivery of school buses to local districts from the state Department of Education was an encouraging development, in part because the vehicles are actually new. Despite repeated recommendations for the state to get on a regular cycle for school bus replacement, the matter has never achieved the level of a recurring legislative priority.
Consequently, the Department of Education has been periodically forced to buy used buses from other states just to ensure there are enough serviceable vehicles to get children back and forth to school.
In 2011, for example, the state bought 24 buses, averaging 11 years of age, from Alabama. The previous year 85 buses, averaging 18 years of age, were purchased from Kentucky.
Still, those were newer than the ancient buses that are being replaced with this year’s $28 million allocation. The 342 new buses will replace vehicles dating from 1984.
State guidelines provide that school buses should be replaced every 15 years. Clearly, the state isn’t close to reaching the goal.
The latest bus allocation comes mainly from a fund for unclaimed lottery money. State Education Superintendent Mick Zais wants the Legislature to allocate $34 million for school bus purchases next year. The Legislature should comply.
South Carolina schools have frequently been derided as falling below the mark on a variety of measurements. Those include academic scores and inadequate school buildings in some of the state’s poorer counties. Add substandard school buses to the list.
If safe transportation for schoolchildren isn’t a top priority for state lawmakers, what is?
“South Carolina didn’t earn the distinction of operating the oldest bus fleet in the nation overnight,” Dr. Zais said. “And this issue won’t be fixed overnight.”
The Legislature, however, should see that it gets fixed within a reasonable period of time — without further delays.