The Mississippi Lottery Corporation raised $80 million for state highways and almost $59 million to support public education during its first full fiscal year. The education funds will go to the state’s Education Enhancement Fund, which supports the Early Childhood Learning Collaborative, which is a state-funded pre-K program, and the Classroom Supply Fund.
Lawmakers, who anticipated a significant haul from the lottery, already appropriated enough money earlier this year to double the size of the state’s pre-K program.
“It’s not something that will close the MAEP gap, but providing teachers additional supply money is significant and certainly doubling our early learning collaboratives is very significant,” Parents’ Campaign President Nancy Loome told the Mississippi Free Press today.
MAEP refers to the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, a state education funding formula that determines how much each public school district receives from the state. After the Legislature’s budget appropriations earlier this year, the State is set to underfund public K-12 education by about $272 million during the coming school year.
‘We Have Teachers Having To Work Two And Three Jobs’
All of the education dollars coming in from lottery revenues are “outside MAEP,” said Loome, whose organization lobbies lawmakers on public-education issues. Still, “you can’t minimize” the fact that the lottery funds will give teachers much-needed relief when it comes to classroom supplies, she said.
“It’s very helpful for teachers to not have to pay for those school supplies out of their pocket, which is happening now in many cases because schools are so underfunded that they are limited in the school supplies that the schools can afford to supply for the teachers,” Loome said. “The teachers are buying things for their own classrooms out of their own pocket. We have teachers having to work two and three jobs just to pay their bills.”
Mississippi lags behind nearly every other state in per-pupil funding and, despite the Legislature approving several small raises in recent years, the state’s K-12 teachers remain the lowest-paid educators in the nation. During his 2019 campaign, Gov. Tate Reeves vowed to raise teacher pay by $4,000. That has not happened yet, but he signed a $1,000 pay raise into law earlier this year.
The State of Mississippi last fully funded education under the MAEP formula in 2008 before slashing budgets in the years after the Great Recession. In the 13 years since, Mississippi has underfunded public education by more than $3 billion.
A 2020 Parents Campaign study found that 73 Mississippi school districts spent more on teacher salaries and benefits alone (without including other costs like administrators salaries, classroom materials, heat and air) than they received in their entire MAEP allocation. But MAEP is supposed to help cover more than just teacher salaries, Loome said.
“It also can go to pay for classroom and curriculum materials, keeping the heat and air turned on, and transportation costs such as fuel for your buses. But in a whole lot of districts, they have to pay for all of the rest of those things with local funds or federal funds if they can,” she said.
For such needs, or school building costs and repair expenses, school districts will still have to use local money to make up for state underfunding, Loome said. A $20-million state school building fund technically exists, she noted.
“But it has never gone there, because every year the Legislature takes that $20 million, and they use it to help fund MAEP,” Loome said.
‘Anything That The State Puts Into Education Is Helpful’
In many parts of the state, money for items like building repairs, textbooks and classroom supplies simply does not exist. In the majority-Black Mississippi Delta, which is the poorest region in the country, students at some schools learn while sharing an insufficient supply of decades-old textbooks in buildings where needed repairs go unfunded.
Mississippi’s history of school underfunding is part of a pattern that dates back to the Jim Crow era and that disproportionately affects students in majority-Black school districts. In some parts of the state, school districts have struggled to hire and retain educators, requiring people who do not meet the normal qualifications to teach on emergency teaching licenses.
Considering the overall state of school funding in Mississippi, “certainly anything that the state puts into education is helpful,” Loome said.
“Of course we still are well behind where we need to be, but it’s a big step forward and we are very excited,” she said.
The Republican-led Mississippi Legislature approved the creation of a lottery in a special session in 2018 to address the state’s crumbling and underfunded infrastructure; the legislation initially directed all funds to go toward roads and bridges. Democrats had wanted the legislation, named for longtime pro-lottery Democratic House Rep. Alyce G. Clarke, to send the money to education.
Lawmakers later decided to dedicate the first $80 million to Mississippi Department of Transportation projects and to split any funds raised after that between K-12 public schools and higher education.
While the lottery is helping fill some holes in infrastructure and education caused by meager legislative funding, not everyone supported its creation. In 2018, Mississippi Sen. Hob Bryan, an Amory Democrat, said that creating a lottery program with a corporate structure was akin to the government operating “a numbers racket” to “swindle its citizens.”
Mississippi’s legislative leaders decided to adopt the lottery program to shore up infrastructure funds two years after passing the largest tax cut in the state’s history, which largely benefited wealthier Mississippians and corporations. Those 2016 cuts axed $400 million from yearly revenues and spared corporations $260 million in income taxes.
Lottery Sales Exceeded $510 Million
Today’s announcement from the Mississippi Lottery Corporation noted that it surpassed $510 million in sales during the 2021 fiscal year, which began on July 1, 2020, and ended on June 30, 2021. The total transferred to the state for infrastructure and education was $138,961,541.14.
Mississippi Lottery Corporation Director of Communications Meg Annison told the Mississippi Free Press today that the corporation will release a report tomorrow detailing revenues and expenses, including how MLC used the other $371 million in sales revenue. Most of that money, she said, was used to pay cash prizes.
“What an incredible way to end our first complete fiscal year,” MLC President Jeff Hewitt said in a press release today. “Our success enabled us to return a significant amount to the state for road and bridge repair and for education. We are overwhelmed with the support of our players, vendors and retailers. We continue to introduce new games and play styles and award winners throughout the state and I am looking forward to the continued success of the lottery.”