Middle School: County has gotten Lottery funds, but….

As the debate continues over whether or not to build a new middle school, many in Pulaski County have wondered about where all those Virginia Lottery funds are going.

Everyone has heard something through the years about lottery money going to education.  Now, as citizens contemplate the $47 million price tag for a new middle school, and the potential for real estate taxes rising between 9 cents per $100 of assessed value up to 13 cents, they’re wondering about other ways to possibly help fund the project.

A quick look at the Virginia Lottery’s website gives a history of the games, and where all the money has gone since the state-run games got their start in 1987.

Since 1999, all Virginia Lottery profits have been used for public education in the Commonwealth, from kindergarten through 12th grade.

That hasn’t always been the case, however.

According to the website, when Virginians approved the lottery in ’87, many voters made the assumption they were also voting on how the lottery profits would be spent.

Not the case, according to the website.

The lottery proceeds, which amount to one-third of lottery ticket sales, were originally earmarked to be used as determined by the General Assembly.

Through the years, however, use of the lottery proceeds has changed.

In 1989, lottery proceeds were dedicated to capital construction projects.

According to the site, from 1990 to 1998 lottery proceeds were transferred to the state’s General Fund.

Starting in 1999, however, a state budget amendment sent lottery proceeds to local public school divisions to be used solely for educational purposes.

In 2000, more than 80 percent of Virginia voters approved the creation of the State Lottery Proceeds Fund. That measure, the website reports, is now a permanent part of Virginia’s Constitution and directs all Virginia Lottery profits to be used solely for educational purposes.

In Fiscal Year 2017, the lottery had sales of nearly $2 billion.  Of that total, the lottery generated more than $558 million – or 28.1 percent – for public education.

For the record, 61 percent of that $2 billion went to players in the form of prizes.  Another 5.6 percent went to the retailers who sell the lottery tickets. And finally, 5.3 percent went back to the Virginia Lottery for operational expenses.

So, has Pulaski County received lottery funds? Absolutely.

“Yes, all public school divisions in Virginia receive lottery funds,” says Chris Stafford, Pulaski County’s Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Business Operations.

According to Stafford, last fiscal year (FY 2017) Pulaski County Public Schools received $2,197,856 in state Lottery funds. Prior to that, the school system received: FY 2016 – $1,943,351; FY 2015 – $2,043,742, and FY 2014 – $2,161,658.

The next question, of course, is how did Pulaski County use those lottery funds?

“How state lottery funds can be used by public schools is the most misunderstood part of lottery funding for the average citizen,” Stafford explained.

“Since 1999, all Virginia Lottery profits have been used for public education.  And until around 2008, the lottery funds were distributed to public school divisions as additional funding over and above other sources of state funding.”

Stafford said the only requirement at that time was that at least one-half of the lottery funds received were to be spent on one-time capital projects.

“So from 1999 to 2008, these funds were used locally for capital projects at our schools such as replacing roofs, paving parking lots, etc.,” he said.

That changed around 2009, however.

“Around 2009 when the recession hit, and state revenues decreased significantly, the General Assembly began using lottery profits to fund programs that were previously paid through the state general fund. So since around 2009, lottery funds have been designated by the General Assembly to pay for existing or new state programs rather than extra funding for public schools,” Stafford explained.

For example, he said, the $2,197,856 Pulaski County received in lottery funds in FY 2016-2017 were designated for 14 different programs including At-Risk programs, Virginia Preschool Initiative, Early Reading Intervention program, K-3 Primary Class Reduction, School Breakfast program, Career and Technical Education, and Textbooks.

“All of these programs were previously funded through the state general fund, but are now partially or exclusively funded by the state lottery,” Stafford said.

So, as Stafford notes, the lottery funds Pulaski County Schools receive are now designated by the General Assembly to pay for specific educational programs, and for the most part, are not additional funds that can be used for local capital projects, renovations, construction, etc.

By MIKE WILLIAMS, The Patriot