Currently, about 2,000 school buses are 15 years old or older, according to state education officials. That means that 35 percent of the state-owned bus fleet of 5,582 buses is in violation of state guidelines.
“To transport children to and from school on outdated and frankly dangerous equipment is an unnecessary risk,” said Derek Lewis, a Greenville County Schools trustee who recently led a school board task force on school buses.
Old school buses are plagued by three problems:
• They’re less safe.
• They break down more often.
• They cost more to operate.
From 2011 to 2017, South Carolina school buses broke down 91,430 times, the department said. Of those incidents, the overwhelming majority — 74.4 percent — involved buses that were 15 years old or older. By state guidelines, those buses should not have been on the road.
In Greenville County, several bus delays occur every day — the result of mechanical problems and a shortage of drivers, said spokeswoman Beth Brotherton.
Last year, Gov. Henry McMaster vetoed $17.5 million that would have bought 210 new buses.
A spokesman for McMaster said the governor did not want to use projected lottery surplus money to pay for school buses.
“I think that’s a veto that needs to be overridden,” said state Rep. Dan Hamilton, a Republican who represents the Taylors area of Greenville County.
“If you boil down what state government is supposed to do, I think the safety of our kids getting to school is at the top of the list,” Hamilton added. “I think it’s an embarrassment for our state that we’ve even let it get to this point.”
After lawmakers address McMaster’s veto, the Education Department will also ask the General Assembly for as much as $70 million more this year to take another big bite out of the problem.