A new audit shows that funding for education hasn’t been at the level lawmakers initially decided when the lottery was created almost two decades ago.
Lawmakers agreed money generated from the games would increase funding for education. But when the economy took a big hit 10 years ago, so did funding for education.
Education usually makes up 50% of South Carolina’s budget, but when the lottery was created that percentage should have gone up. Lawmakers put into law that lottery funds would be used to increase the level of funding for education in the state.
Senator Rex Rice called for the audit. “What happened in other states when they cut back and the lottery went down, so did education. And, when people voted for the lottery, it was for the money to increase funding for education,” said Senator Rice.
Fast forward a few years to 2008 when the state’s economy took a dive. Lawmakers then decided to write an exception to the rule to allow the lottery money to be spent elsewhere. That exception then became the rule.
Senator Rice added, “We had a downturn in revenue. We had a tough time trying to meet the budget. That first year there was about $30 million that should have been funded to education. A proviso should be temporary but it became permanent because it was introduced to the budget each year.”
And each year that number increased. An audit of lottery funds shows that last year $400 million was absorbed into the general fund instead of going to education.
The chairman of the Commission on Higher Education, Tim Hofferth, who advocated for increased funding wrote in a statement, “We don’t have strictly a revenue problem, we also have a spending problem. Until we address both, we’re just treating symptoms rather than the underlying health of higher education in South Carolina.”
The audit shows that money is still being put into k-12 education and to fund state scholarships, but a lack of funding for higher education could be keeping some students off campus.
“It’s unfair for those who don’t have scholarships who want to go to our higher ed institutions but can’t because of costs,” continued Rice.
Lawmakers will now review that audit and propose legislation to reverse the damage done.