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July 15, 2015

Make the Lottery a Winning Ticket for Schools and Kids


Sold to voters almost three decades ago as a way to boost funding for public schools, the Virginia Lottery instead enables state lawmakers to play a shell game with our money.

Since the recession, lawmakers have often used lottery profits to replace, rather than supplement, normal state funding for our schools. While that means that schools haven’t seen their funding cut as much during tough times as they may have without lottery money, they also haven’t gotten the boost from the lottery that Virginia needs and voters were told.

This gimmick might seem a harmless way to make ends meet, but it’s not.

Despite assertions that Virginians of all incomes play the lottery, state lotteries still draw away a higher percentage of the income of poor households than their better-off counterparts. As a result, more of the cost of running our schools falls on struggling families, many of whom are in the very communities that have seen some of the deepest cuts in per student state funding for their schools.

It’s time for the lottery to live up to its potential. Lottery profits should be put back to work increasing state support for schools. Then we can achieve the smaller class sizes students need, attract and retain highly qualified teachers, and provide top-notch support for struggling students. All of this would help ensure that all of our students get a fair shot at a good education.

We’ve done this before. At one point, Virginia did use a portion of the lottery profits to supplement normal school funding, including helping with one-time expenses like school construction projects.

But the state hasn’t used lottery profits to help school divisions in this way for years, even though our schools have been hurting. Next year, per student state direct aid for our schools will be down 14.5 percent from the 2008-2009 school year after adjusting for inflation. And where local governments haven’t been able to make up for these cuts, schools have had to cut back, often hurting students and teachers.

As the governor begins to craft the next two-year budget, he has the opportunity to do everything he can to help Virginia’s schools. That means investing enough in our schools to repair the harm from the cuts and allow lottery profits to be a boost the way they were supposed to from the start. That would be a winning ticket.

–Mitchell Cole, Policy Analyst

Photo: Taber Andrew Bain
Creative Commons 2.0

The Commonwealth Institute

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