COLUMBIA ó A state budget proposal would provide new buses that run on alternative fuel to South Carolina school districts willing to pay part of the bill.

The Senate Finance Committee approved on Wednesday creating a pilot program for up to three districts. The alternative-fuel buses are expected to cost an additional $7,000 above the $82,000 average for regular-route buses.

In South Carolina, the education agency buys, owns and maintains the statewide school bus fleet. The fleet is among the nationís oldest.

Republican Sen. Wes Hayes of Rock Hill said agency officials initially opposed the pilot but have agreed to the Senate compromise.

It requires districts to fund the cost difference, pay to train the state-paid bus mechanics working on the buses and be responsible for having a local fuel source.