Gambling with education

Voters going to the polls tomorrow will choose whether or not to pass Proposition A, a measure that has used many Missouri Teachers of the Year to promote its funding of state education. However, two local school superintendents and a school board vice president voiced their opposition to this initiative.
“There is no real guarantee that this money goes to schools,” said Richmond Superintendent Jim Robins. “Schools get more money if people lose more money at the casinos. It’s a misery tax of sorts. It isn’t a reliable tax source, like property or sales tax.”
“If you turn down any money, they look at you incredulously,” said Richmond school board vice president Gwen Weate. “But, it’s not worth it when you read the rest of Prop A. It promotes people gambling more. They could completely go through their paycheck. It’s not a responsible way to fund public education.”
Orrick Superintendent Marcus Stucker was even more direct.
“Don’t vote for Prop A just because it gives some money to the schools, because we haven’t had a lot of success with it.”
Proposition A would repeal Missouri’s $500 loss limits, place a cap on licenses for additional casinos, yet raise the state casino gambling tax from 20 to 21 percent. The additional revenue is earmarked to provide additional funding to Missouri schools. The Missouri State Auditor’s Office estimates between $105-$130 million would be raised for elementary and secondary schools; however, it is unclear as to the amounts any school district would actually receive.
Some local schools are not expected to receive any new revenue. Cowgill, Norborne, Hardin, Orrick, Wellington-Napoleon, Lathrop, Excelsior Springs, Liberty and Missouri City would receive no funds as a result of this proposition, according to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. But the following local schools are listed as possible recipients of estimated funds: Stet ($9,692), Polo ($36,419), Braymer ($30,457), Lexington ($87,541), Richmond ($147,564) and Lawson ($116,945).
Robins cautions these figures are state estimates that may or may not materialize.
None of Missouri’s educational organizations have come out in support of Proposition A. These organizations have chosen to remain neutral on this issue for several reasons. The gambling tax would generate money for some schools, but the fact that the money comes from gambling is a controversial issue for the majority of educators.
“We generally don’t take positions on ballot issues that we don’t see as educational issues,” said Krista Meyer, political action manager for Missouri State Teachers Association. “We view this more as a casino issue than an education issue.”
The Missouri Association of School Administrators Web site stated, “The current loss limit is $500 every two hours which adds up to $6,000 per day or $42,000 per week. Do you think we really need to raise that? How would we vote if there were a Proposition that would limit the number of drug stores to what we have now?”
Proponents for Proposition A acknowledge it is first and foremost a benefit to the casinos. “Proposition A finally lets Missouri compete equally with neighboring states for casino visitors. That helps our economy. It helps protect 12,000 jobs at casinos across Missouri, including vendors who support the casinos,” said Scott Chariton, spokesman for “Yes on A Coalition.” With casinos in so many states, visitors do not often have to travel far anymore.
According to Associated Industries of Missouri and Taxpayers Institute of Missouri, the Missouri state gaming tax currently generates nearly $300 million per year for schools.
Proponents argue that Missouri’s $500 loss limit is “outdated” and does not exist in any other state. They also project state casinos will increase their revenue by about 30 percent – $442 million annually for casino owners, according to the Missouri Gaming Commission. The casino industry has spent over $11 million in this campaign.
Educators voiced their uneasiness in the actual funding from a unreliable source.
“There’s productive money and unproductive money. I’m not condemning gambling, but I just don’t think we want to promote it. It’s not a reliable, consistent tax source,” said Robins. “If gambling was good for education, wouldn’t Nevada be the mecca of education? It’s got one of the lowest teacher salaries in America.”
Republican Kenny Hulshof and Democrat Jay Nixon have both indicated they are against Proposition A and said they want to keep the loss limit in place.
Photo: The commercials on TV show teachers supporting Proposition A, but what they don’t show is the gambling money and efforts by the casinos behind the measure. (Photo Illustration by Dennis Sharkey/The Daily News)

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