Eliza Jane Shaeffer
Kentucky sells a lottery ticket every thirty-five seconds. Throngs of people, drawn by the promise of a 1.5 billion-dollar jackpot, rushed to buy tickets before the Powerball drawing earlier this month. Many perhaps justified their purchase by assuring themselves that the money they spent would go towards education. The Kentucky Lottery even encourages this line of thinking with their “Where the Money Goes” television advertisement, which features the slogan “Fueling Imagination, Funding Education.” But does it really?
The Powerball jackpot is not the only billion-dollar behemoth. In the past ten years, there has been nearly one billion dollars’ worth of unmet need among Kentucky’s students, a fact that is exacerbated by the underfunding of two grants called the College Assistance Program (CAP) and the Kentucky Tuition Grant (KTG).
According to KRS 154A.130, after paying operating costs, lottery revenue is to be broken up in three ways:
- Three million dollars of lottery money must go to state literacy programs,
- 45% of the remainder must go towards the Kentucky Education Excellence Scholarship (KEES), which is a merit-based higher-education grant, and
- 55% of the remainder must go towards CAP and KTG, which are need-based higher-education grants.
Over the past five years, the literacy programs and KEES were nearly always fully funded. However, according to the Student Voice Team’s analysis of the Kentucky state budget from Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 through FY 2016, CAP and KTG were unlawfully underfunded by an average of $28 million annually, a full 23.5% less than they were supposed to receive. This money is dispersed among other state programs, likely to cushion the budget from the effects of the recent recession.
Despite this chronic underfunding, the General Assembly passed a law in 2014 that allows the Kentucky Lottery to run advertisements that brand the lottery as a key source of funding for higher-education financial aid.
Recently, the problem has gotten worse. In FY 2012, CAP and KTG were underfunded by almost $24 million. But in FY 2016, these two need-based aid grants were underfunded by nearly $34 million, limiting access to aid for between fifteen and twenty thousand students.
Kyla Lockett is one such student. The STEAM Academy junior has “no idea how [she is] going to afford [college]” but hopes to qualify for state scholarships. What Kyla doesn’t know is that the odds are stacked against her. She has just a 1 in 3 chance of getting awarded the money she so desperately needs.
Jake Porter, a senior at Henry Clay, voiced similar concerns. “The lack of financial aid is already crippling to some, and we don’t need to make it worse,” he said.
Eliza Jane Shaeffer is a member of the Prichard Committee Student Voice Team, a group of about
80 student-educated activists from all around Kentucky.