Is Va. lottery money for education being diverted to state programs?

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)–All around Richmond, there’s March madness, but people aren’t excited about basketball.

“We’ve never had a jackpot that is worth half a billion dollars,” exclaims Lottery Director Paula Otto.

It’s estimated, lottery ticket sales are up by about 60 percent, which means millions more for public education.

Otto says this Mega Millions run will generate $12 million more dollars for public education.

But some educators are angry because they believe not enough Virginia lottery money is ending up in local coffers, but is instead being diverted to help pay for state programs.

“What has been happening is that over time, instead of supplementing funding for K-12 education, the GA has used the lottery proceeds to supplant K-12 education,” says Kitty Boitnott, President of the Virginia Education Association.

Boitnott says most of the public believes lottery money is extra funding for schools, when it fact, it’s dropped into the general fund which allows lawmakers to use the money for a subset of educational programs like the foster care and school breakfast program.

Boitnott argues Virginia Lottery proceeds are now being treated like tax dollars, although a constitutional amendment was created in 2000 to designate all lottery proceeds to education.

“In fact, recently, there was talk of capping certain K-12 programs based on what the lottery actually brought in as opposed to what that program might need,” argues Boitnott.

The Virginia Lottery says it has no control of how the General Assembly spends lottery  proceeds on educational programs.  However Otto adds,  “I think it’s important to remember that the Virginia Lottery contribution to public education is less than 10% of what the state spends on public education each year.

Of the $1.4 billion generated by lottery sales in 2011, $444 million was given to public schools.

This fiscal year, the state will spend 54 billion on public education.

Lawmakers say in this economy, with poor revenues, the money needs to be spent where it’s needed most when it comes to education.

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