COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina recently announced that it will use $9.33 million of the state’s share of Volkswagen (VW) settlement funds to purchase new propane school and transit buses.
Gov. Henry McMaster, joined by State Department of Education Superintendent Molly Spearman and State Department of Insurance Director Ray Farmer, announced the first round of VW awards during a press conference on July 30, according to a news release from McMaster's office. The funds will be used to purchase a total of 78 new propane-powered Thomas Built Buses for four school districts and three transit buses for the Berkeley-Charleston-Dorchester Council of Governments and the City of Anderson.
“This is a good day for South Carolina and a good day for our team,” McMaster said. “I want to thank superintendent Spearman for submitting this proposal and making sure this money goes towards getting the new buses that our students need. I also want to thank director Farmer and his team for doing the work necessary to determine that this is the best use of these funds for our students and the people of South Carolina.”
In June 2017, Gov. McMaster designated the State Department of Insurance as the lead agency in determining how the state’s $34 million share of VW settlement funds would be distributed. After a public comment period, the agency partially funded three of eight total applications, according to McMaster's office.
“I’ve had the pleasure of serving alongside Gov. McMaster and the South Carolina General Assembly, and we’ve all been committed to improving South Carolina’s school bus fleet,” Spearman said. “Today is an exciting day — I am so thankful that the Department of Insurance has seen the need and has supported us in this effort.”
As SBF previously reported, the state has been working for years on a plan to replace its aging school bus fleet, which is considered to be one of the oldest in the U.S. In January 2017, Spearman asked the state’s General Assembly to fund the replacement of more than 1,000 of the state’s buses that are at least 20 years old, and worked with the state treasurer and legislators to create South Carolina’s first school bus lease-to-purchase program.
Meanwhile, in June of that same year, Gov. McMaster had vetoed $20.5 million in funding for hundreds of new school buses in the 2017-18 fiscal year, due to concerns that the funding would come from excess lottery proceeds that voters were told would go to scholarships. However, the state Legislature overrode that veto in January 2018.
The State Department of Education later confirmed in January that all school bus models year 1995 and 1996 were removed from the state's fleet and would be replaced with new ones. Ryan Brown, a spokesperson for the agency, said that the State Department of Education's goal was to replace 432 of the state's 30-year-old buses with hopes of using a share of the South Carolina's VW settlement funds.
For more information about South Carolina’s Volkswagen settlement funds, go here.
View more photos of the press conference, posted on the South Carolina Department of Education's Facebook page, below.