COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC/WIS) - It takes a little more than three hours minutes to get from Greenville to Charleston on the interstate. State lawmakers found out Monday thousands of South Carolina school children spend that much time on the school bus getting to and from the classroom.
Imagine that drive from Greenville to Charleston with no air conditioning; with so many South Carolina school buses between 15 and 20 years old, that's exactly what school children are experiencing some rural school districts on their ride home.
A group of state senators held a hearing at the Lexington Early Childhood Education Center in Swansea to address the issues brought about by the Abbeville lawsuit, which says many rural school districts are not getting resources from the state to provide the required "minimally adequate" education by law.
The state Supreme Court ruled in the districts' favor last year. Lawmakers focused on rural districts but looked at all districts in the state when it came to transportation.
Senators expressed profound shock and frustration with the fact that right now 1,700 bus routes in the state are 90 minutes or more. Meaning a school child from age 5 or 6 on up, could spend an hour and a half going to school, and another hour and a half coming home.
"Roughly 850, 900 routes per bus are 90 minutes or more? Geez!" Democratic Sen. Nikki Setzler said.
School district and Department of Education employees who testified chalked issues with bus routes up to two seemingly connected issues: not enough buses per district or not enough bus drivers.
A lack of drivers doesn't necessarily mean a lack of people who want to drive school buses, but an inability of school districts to pay competitive wages.
An example that was brought up today was Laurens County whose highest paid bus driver makes just under $13 an hour. One county over, in Greenville, starting pay for bus drivers is $13 an hour.