For some South Carolina public-school students getting to and from school can add up to three hours of their day.
According to The State newspaper, nearly 10 percent of the more than 18,000 routes traveled by the state-owned bus fleet in the 2013-14 school year exceeded 90 minutes of one-way travel. The newspaper analyzed data from the state Department of Education.
Lawmakers heard about the long rides as part of several hearings they are holding around the Midlands. The hearings are part of an effort to answer a South Carolina Supreme Court order last year to improve public education in the state’s rural districts.
State law only allows bus routes to go longer than 90 minutes if the route is long “because of a circuitous or meandering road network, extremely low population density, or waterway barriers.”
Legislators are wary of simply buying more buses to cut down the route times, noting the difficulty in maintaining the state’s current fleet. The report notes Education Department data shows half of South Carolina’s more than 5,600 school buses are more than 15 years old and more than 400 are older than 25 years.
Funding for the state-owned bus fleet dropped off in the years following the recent economic recession, but it has increased in the last two state budgets. The agency was given funding to purchase 530 new buses last year. South Carolina is the only state in the country that maintains its own statewide bus fleet — other states either leave the issue to counties and school districts or contract the bus service to a private company.