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New SC School Buses Could Get Wireless Internet

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Think of it as wi-fi on wheels.

South Carolina lawmakers are planning to spend millions on new school buses. The ones they buy for next year could let students log on to the internet while they're riding down the road.

A proposal to outfit the new school buses the state purchases this year with wireless internet is now in the current version of the House's budget. The House Ways and Means Committee approved that addition this week, which also says those buses would park at a central location after-hours so students and staff could access the internet outside of school.

Rural school districts would get first dibs.

Stephanie Lackey with the School District of Pickens County said, at first, she had concerns.

"Internet just opens up a whole wide world of people that can actually harm our children. And then there are just other things that our children just don't need to see on the internet at this point," said Lackey.

But once she realized access to that wi-fi would be password-protected and have the same restrictions as computers at school, she warmed up to the idea.

"I think it would give the students an opportunity to redeem some of the travel time. Some of our students are on buses for an hour, hour and a half," said Lackey.

School District of Pickens County Transportation Coordinator Aaron Boyles said having wi-fi on buses could mean fewer discipline cases, so drivers could focus on getting kids where they need to go safely.

"They're going to be occupied with something like that instead of being occupied with aggravating one another," said Boyles.

This addition is now part of the House's version of the budget, but it can still be changed or removed once it's debated on the full House floor or once it goes to the Senate or Governor.

"I'm hoping it will [end up in the final budget], given North Carolina and the other states are doing it. Obviously, other states wouldn't be pursuing it if they didn't think it was beneficial to them," said Rep. Dwight Loftis of Greenville, who is on the House Ways and Means Committee.

Loftis said the committee doesn't have exact figures on how much more it would cost to outfit a school bus with wi-fi, but the cost could be offset by another addition to the budget the committee voted in this week. That addition requires 10 percent of any money used to buy new school buses be used to buy buses that use alternative fuel like natural gas.

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