Just a few short weeks ago, the Powerball jackpot reached 1.5 billion dollars, the largest lottery prize in history. Millions of hopefuls lined up to purchase their ticket, happily ignoring the fact that the odds were nearly 1 in 292,000,000. Many of those who splurged on a chance to win the cash justified their decision by assuring themselves that the money would be going towards education. In fact, many state lotteries across the country promise that the profit made from the lottery will be used to promote the schooling of our youth. “Fueling imagination, funding education,” does this slogan ring a bell? It probably should, because it is the very one that is used in every lottery advertisement in the Commonwealth. We too claim that the funds garnered by the lottery go towards education and, like most other states, this is not the entire truth.
According to KRS 154A. 130, after operating costs are factored out, lottery revenue is to be divvied up in the following way:
1. An initial three million dollars must go to state literacy programs.
2. 45% of the remainder is to go towards the Kentucky Education Excellence Scholarship (KEES) Fund. KEES are merit based scholarships that are awarded to students that achieve exemplary Grade Point Averages throughout their high school career.
3. 55% of the revenue remaining must go towards CAP and KTG, which are needs-based higher-education grants.
Although the state literacy programs and KEES are consistently receiving their statutory share of the lottery revenue, over the past several years funding to CAP and KTG has very quietly been cut. Going back to the absurdly large, history-making Powerball jackpot of a couple weeks ago, approximately the same amount has been diverted from these programs. That’s right, almost one billion dollars that were supposed to go towards needs-based aid have been diverted to other areas of the budget. For the students that receiving financial aid could mean the difference between going to college and stopping at their high school diploma, this unlawful misappropriation is crippling.
One such student is Kyla Lockett, a Junior at STEAM Academy in Lexington KY. She told the Student Voice Team, ” I have no idea how I am going to afford [college].” With the help of one of her teachers, she is seeking out scholarships that she qualifies for. “Hopefully I get them,” she said. Unfortunately, students like Kyla have the odds stacked against them. Due to the depletion of the CAP, KTG, and similar grant funds, it has become increasingly difficult to receive state financial aid. Fulfilling their dreams of going to college and receiving higher education seems to be just out of reach.
According to the Student Voice Team’s analysis of the Kentucky State Budget over the Fiscal Years of 2012-2016, the problem is getting worse. In FY (fiscal year) 2012 the CAP and KTG were underfunded by 24 million dollars, but most recently, in FY 2016, these programs were underfunded by a whopping 34 million dollars. If left unattended this number could easily increase over the next few years and leave more and more Kentucky students without the financial help that they need.
Here is where I leave this problem to you students, teachers, parents, and even just patrons of education. You have the power to make an impact on the next generation of Kentuckians by refusing to this problem to go unanswered. Become informed, spread the word, compose an editorial, begin a committee, write to your legislator, do anything you can to ensure that your voice is heard. This is an opportunity for the Commonwealth of Kentucky to become a national leader by simply following its own laws and funding needs-based aid to the degree that has been promised.
With the help of leaders like you, we can ensure that the futures of thousands of low-income students in Kentucky are not left up to chance.