CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) — Virginia Lottery profits are handed over to the state Department of Education to fund schools in the Commonwealth. The money has been seen as extra dollars on top of what the state gives, but educators say it's filling in the gaps where state funding is lacking.
Lottery profits didn't always support education. When the first lottery ticket was sold on Sept. 30, 1988, revenue went to capital projects and the general fund. John Hagerty, with the Virginia Lottery, says that changed once voters went to the polls in 2000.
"As a constitutional amendment, voters were asked do you want all lottery profits to go to K-12 education? And the voters overwhelming said yes," Hagerty said.
As a result of the decision by voters, by law, all lottery profits, which are slightly under one-third of ticket sales, go to the Department of Education. The agency takes care of distributing funds to local school districts on a per-pupil basis.
Since that vote, more than $9 billion has helped fund public education, according to Virginia Lottery. In the fiscal year 2018, schools received $606 million.
Although the amount seems like a large sum of money, Hagerty says it only makes up about 10 percent of what Virginia spends on education.
School districts receive revenue from federal, state and local governments. The responsibility is shared among the three with lottery funds grouped in with the state funding.
Kathy Burcher, with the Virginia Education Association, says the lottery profits are supposed to act as additional dollars to what the state contributes, but the money is filling in the holes.
"For every lottery dollar in, they would actually take state dollars to be able to move those to other public services," Burcher said.
She says lottery dollars are funding programs that are required by the state, such as K-3 Primary Class Size Reduction, Special Education, and the Virginia Preschool Initiative. She says some of these are solely funded by lottery dollars.
She would like to see the money go to localities and allow them to spend it how they see fit.
"Whether it's a bus replacement, or it's carpet replacement, or replace a roof. Those dollars don't exist because every penny, literally, school divisions are cobbling together every penny they can to provide basic programs for their students," Burcher said.
She wants the state to re-evaluate the Standards of Quality so the state can increase education dollars for more state-required positions. For anything over the state's recommendations, the local school district is financially responsible.
During the 2019 General Assembly session, state lawmakers agreed to amend the student-to-teacher/counselor ratio, but the positions will not be funded by the state. Localities will have to pick up the tab for the extra positions.
"What we need to do is re-establish the funding through the state revenue sources that are not lottery dollars for those programs, so that school divisions truly can start to build the lottery dollars back as icing on the cake and not the cake," Burcher said.
In Albemarle County for the 2018-2019 budget, 73 percent of funding for schools came from the local government, 26 percent from state funding and the remaining balance from federal dollars.
More than $2 million of the district's operating budget of $190 million came from lottery funding, which also helps to pay for core programs.
You can find a complete list of how much money the Virginia Lottery gives to each Virginia school district on their Playing Matters page.
"Every dollar counts and every dollar is important, so it's certainly a small wedge of the overall, pie it's a needed funding source," Rosalyn Schmitt, the chief operating officer with Albemarle County Public Schools, said.
She would like to see the state pick up the tab for those fundamental programs so lottery funds would enhance the budget.
"We would hope those supplemental funds would help those important programs like foreign language in elementary schools or more mental health professionals or other programs that are just as critical," Schmitt said.
Parents can help restore those funds. The Virginia Education Association and ACPS say parents can advocate for more money for schools and keep a close eye on state elections and lawmakers' decisions around state funding.
The Virginia Lottery also encourages everyone to play responsibly.
Copyright 2019 WCAV. All rights reserved.