The Lottery Taketh Away More Than It Gives Our Schools

Published 3:24 pm Tuesday, March 27, 2012

In 2000, Virginia voters sent the General Assembly a message so overwhelming that even the politicians in Richmond should have been able to hear it. Over 80 percent of those voting approved an amendment to the state's constitution requiring that all of the lottery's proceeds fund K-12 public education in the Commonwealth.


Some legislators got the bait.

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Others got the switch.

Our public schools got the shad treatment.

When the lottery was sold to us, and in the years immediately after it began sucking away money-much, if not most, from those who can least afford it-we were led to believe the lottery profits would be additional investment in public education, over and above the regular yearly appropriations.

We voted for the lottery believing what we'd been told.

If any further proof was needed that the lottery, as originally proposed to the people of Virginia, is a rat dressed up as a piece of cheese, the huge state funding cuts ready to slam our schools provide that evidence.

If the lottery were all it was supposed to be our schools would not fear the reaper.

The millions of dollars spent on lottery tickets in Prince Edward County could easily fund a public education endowment, instead. Were the lottery simply living up to the promise made prior to the referendum creating it, Buckingham, Cumberland, Prince Edward and every other public school system would be planning what educational programs and positions to add, not cut, eradicate, eliminate and terminate.

At least, the lottery is telling the truth when it brags to the people of Virginia that all the money it makes, minus prizes and expenses, goes to public education. The constitution requires that the money go to K-12 public schools.

But we have been doubly manured upon by the commonwealth's powers that be. Clearly, the vote to establish the lottery was based upon the notion that lottery profits would be additional appropriations for public education, not simply replacement funds enabling the General Assembly to cut educational funding from the general revenue stream.

Equally clear, the second vote, the 2000 constitutional amendment, was a statement by the people that the lottery profits should be over and above normal levels of educational funding.

Cleverly, the General Assembly worded the proposed constitutional amendment in such a way that voters would approve it hoping their message would be sent and received, while the General Assembly would be legally free to follow the letter of the amendment, sending all lottery profits for public education, while otherwise reducing education appropriations.

Bait and switch.

A classic con.

What makes it worse is that lotteries prey on those who can least afford it. Not simply in Virginia, but everywhere.

According to information compiled by Sooner Alcohol Narcotics Education (SANE)-and how interesting that lottery ticket spending would fall under that group's radar:

A California study shows that 40 percent of lottery players are unemployed.

The poorest one-third of the population in Maryland purchases 60 percent of the daily lottery tickets.

In Georgia, individuals earning less than $25,000 a year spend three times as much of their hard earned money on lottery tickets than those making $75,000 or more.

Nationally, those with household incomes of less than $10,000 bet almost three times as much on the lottery as those with incomes over $50,000.

And buying a lottery ticket is gambling, is placing a bet.

A 1988 study in New Jersey revealed that among lottery players with incomes less than $10,000, the average percentage of that income spent on lottery tickets was nearly 21 percent.

The lottery also evidently introduces minors to gambling, given the study that shows in lottery states one-third of the minors have illegally purchased tickets.

In Virginia, we were told that our young people would find their public education receiving additional investments in state funding, thanks to the lottery.

Here's wishing someone in state government would have the onions to transform the lottery into something which lives up to the vow which led to its creation and saw 80 percent of the electorate remind the General Assembly of that vow.

A vow that stands broken to smithereens today, as public school systems around the state, including our own, stand poised to shrink educational programs rather than expand them. And, in Buckingham, perhaps even shut down a school.

There are things that need to be shut down.

Classrooms and schools are not among them.