Terri Branham Clark
It is an understatement to say much has changed this fall for our students, but a welcome constant remains: the Kentucky Lottery. Kentucky high schoolers are still earning and our college students are still spending money generated by the state lottery.
The most recognizable of the programs helping them is KEES, which stands for Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship and is determined by a student’s grades in high school and ACT score. The College Access Program (CAP) Grant and the Kentucky Tuition Grant (KTG), are needs-based grants that students use to attend public and private postsecondary school.
More than a generation has passed since these programs began, and have cut college costs for families by almost $4 billion over that timeframe.
It’s worth noting that the story of lotteries is actually two-fold, because they were prominent in our country’s early years but then spent decades being outlawed due to corruption. Initially, they were used to build and maintain churches, colleges, roads and other projects. Although today’s big winners can instantly retire, the winners back then rarely, if ever, received a big payout.
The modern era of lotteries came when New Hampshire first legalized theirs in the mid-1960s. Kentucky joined that list in 1988, and now all but five states have one.
During our lottery’s first decade, most of the state proceeds were deposited in what we call the General Fund, which drives the state budget. Other recipients included $30 million for recognition bonuses to Vietnam veterans, and programs like affordable housing and literacy development received millions of dollars as well.
Although more than half of the General Fund is dedicated to education, the public routinely asked why all lottery proceeds weren’t dedicated to schools. These voices were heard in the late 1990s, when the General Assembly created the KEES, KTG and CAP programs. Now, one in five of our citizens has used at least one, according to Kentucky Lottery officials.
As large as the state’s proceeds are, there was never a chance they could take over school funding entirely. The state’s lottery proceeds total about $5.6 billion over three decades but wouldn’t be enough to cover the state’s per-pupil expenses for two years.
Late last month, lottery officials said sales were up 6.5 percent for the fiscal year that ended in June. July’s sales were off to a significant start – an increase of 46 percent when compared to the same month in 2019.
It’s unlikely that pace will continue in the months ahead, but it strongly indicates there will be additional resources available to help students attend college in the years to come. The more money available for KEES, KTG and CAP, the easier it is to continue the trend that has allowed our post-secondary enrollment to jump during the past two decades.