Op-Ed

Ky. losing as lottery funds are diverted

In this screen shot from MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, Eliza Jane Schaeffer, right, joined Prichard Committee Student Voice Team senior director Rachel Burg Belin last year in promoting legislation to allow Kentucky school districts to add a student to superintendent screening committees. The legislation did not pass.
In this screen shot from MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, Eliza Jane Schaeffer, right, joined Prichard Committee Student Voice Team senior director Rachel Burg Belin last year in promoting legislation to allow Kentucky school districts to add a student to superintendent screening committees. The legislation did not pass.

Kentucky sells a lottery ticket every 35 seconds. Throngs of people, drawn by the promise of a $1.5 billion jackpot, rushed to buy tickets before the Powerball drawing earlier this month. Many perhaps justified their purchase by assuring themselves that the money they spent would go toward education. The Kentucky Lottery even encourages this line of thinking with its “Where the Money Goes” television advertisement, which features the slogan “Fueling Imagination, Funding Education.”

But does it really?

The Powerball jackpot is not the only billion-dollar behemoth. In the past 10 years, there has been nearly $1 billion worth of unmet need among Kentucky’s students, a fact that is exacerbated by the underfunding of two grants called the College Assistance Program and the Kentucky Tuition Grant.

According to KRS 154A.130, after paying operating costs, lottery revenue is to be broken up in three ways:

▪  $3 million of lottery money must go to state literacy programs.

▪  45 percent of the remainder must go toward the Kentucky Education Excellence Scholarship, which is a merit-based higher-education grant.

▪  55 percent of the remainder must go towards CAP and KTG, which are need-based higher-education grants.

Over the past five years, the literacy programs and KEES were nearly always fully funded. However, according to the Student Voice Team’s analysis of the Kentucky state budget from fiscal years 2012 through 2016, CAP and KTG were unlawfully underfunded by an average of $28 million annually, a full 23.5 percent less than they were supposed to receive. This money is instead dispersed among other state programs, likely to cushion the budget from the effects of the recent recession.

Despite this chronic underfunding, the General Assembly passed a law in 2014 that allows the Kentucky Lottery to run advertisements that brand the lottery as a key source of funding for higher-education financial aid.

Recently, the problem has gotten worse. In fiscal 2012, CAP and KTG were underfunded by almost $24 million. But in fiscal 2016, these two need-based aid grants were underfunded by nearly $34 million — a $10 million loss. The shortfall limits access to aid for 15,000 to 20,000 qualifying students each year.

Kyla Lockett is one such student. The STEAM Academy junior told us, “I have no idea how I am going to afford (college).” Her teacher is helping her identify state scholarships for which she qualifies. “Hopefully, I get them,” she said. What Kyla doesn’t know is that the odds are stacked against her. She has just a 1 in 3 chance of getting awarded the money she so desperately needs.

Jake Porter, a senior at Henry Clay High School, voiced similar concerns. “The lack of financial aid is already crippling to some, and we don’t need to make it worse,” he said.

The problem is neither new nor unique to Kentucky. A 2007 New York Times study discovered lottery money was diverted from its intended purpose in nearly all the 42 states it examined

There is an opportunity for Kentucky to be a national leader in doing right by low-income students, simply by funding need-based aid at the level outlined in the law. Three-fifths of eligible Kentucky students who apply for CAP grants and one-third of eligible Kentucky students who apply for KTG grants are denied. The value of investing in these students cannot be overstated: if Kentucky were to invest in increasing its overall education attainment to the national average, the state would realize a nearly $900 million return.

Applying for higher education grants shouldn’t be a gamble. The Kentucky Lottery was justified by politicians because the money would fund student aid. That Powerball promise has been broken, and we now have a moral imperative to fix it.

The futures of tens of thousands of Kentucky’s low-income students should not be left to chance.

Eliza Jane Schaeffer chairs the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team’s School Governance Committee. She is also a senior at Henry Clay High School in Lexington.

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