SC to Receive $31.6 mil from Volkswagen settlement; poor school districts should be primary beneficiary

FILE
FILE

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) — On October 25, 2016, the Honorable Charles R. Breyer approved a settlement of $14.7 billion in the Volkswagen emissions scandal.  Volkswagen has admitted that their vehicles were programmed to cheat emission tests.

As part of the settlement, $2.7 billion was awarded to the states to be used for environmental mitigation projects with the overall goal to reduce emission of nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere.  South Carolina’s portion of the trust fund totals $31.6 million, which is based on the number of VW vehicles registered in SC subject to the buyback, lease termination, and vehicle modification program as provided for in the agreement.  The settlement protocol empowers the Governor to submit a Beneficiary Mitigation Plan that summarizes how the state plans to use the proceeds.  More importantly, the agreement sets-forth certain vehicles and equipment that qualify to be upgraded and/or replaced.  Specifically, government-owned school buses can be replaced and funded up to 100% of the cost, as long as the new buses are new diesel, alternate fueled, or all-electric engines.

State Senator Marlon Kimpson, whose law firm Motley Rice LLC was involved with the negotiation of the multi-billion dollar settlement, recently met with Governor Nikki Haley and Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman to propose a plan.  “Governor Haley should submit a plan to the VW trustees that designates a substantial portion of the settlement proceeds for new school buses for the Plaintiff school districts in the Allendale equity funding case.  Many of these counties have inadequate buses for their children with a large number of buses over 25 years old,” said Kimpson.  “Spending this money on school buses in these districts would allow our state to start complying with the Supreme Court’s mandate in Abbeville County School District v. State, where the Court held that the students in poorer school districts were ‘denied the opportunity for a minimally adequate education’ which was is in direct violation of our state constitution,” added Kimpson.  Specifically, the court stated that “school children without access to adequate transportation cannot obtain the constitutionally required opportunity” and that it was “established that large portions of school district budgets are spent on transportation costs.”  Currently, students in these counties have twelve hour long days, with four hours being spent just traveling to school.  The buses are so old that they either break down frequently or don’t start.

Using this money to purchase new buses would allow these students to arrive on time to school in a vehicle that is safe and reliable, something many other districts take for granted.  “The state needs Governor Haley to use this money as investment in transportation for our underfunded school districts,” said Kimpson.

Kimpson’s proposal would set aside $12 million for about 150 new buses to be used in the plaintiff school districts in the Abbeville case.  Another $12 million would pay for 150 buses to be used in all other school districts.  The remaining $8 million would be available to be used to repair and/or replace other qualifying equipment identified in the settlement protocol, all items which emit toxic levels of nitrogen oxide.  In that regard, Kimpson has also proposed that some of the proceeds be used to improve Charleston’s mass transit system, as the county is now experiencing an unprecedented amount of growth and the pollution in the tri-county region is unique to the rest of the state.

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