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Virginia Lottery generates small percentage of Commonwealth's education budget

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(Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - Money for education continues to be a hot topic for families, educators and lawmakers in Virginia.

Millions of lottery tickets are sold every year in the Commonwealth. The Virginia Lottery generated more than half a billion dollars for education last year.

Southwest Virginia gets a lot of that money. Last year, Roanoke City got nearly $15 million, Danville nearly $6.5 million and Montgomery County more than $3.4 million.

The dream is winning big like locals Bill Aliff, Jacqueline Duvall and Tom Cook. Millions of lottery tickets are sold every year in Virginia.

"Whether your ticket wins or loses it does benefit education in Virginia," said John Hagerty, Virginia Lottery Spokesperson.

The lottery's website says "Every time you scratch a ticket or pick your numbers for the big jackpot, you are creating winners in education all over the Commonwealth."

"I was a kid when the lottery came in. I remember the celebration in the public school system that there was all this new money," said Del. Greg Habeeb, (R) - 8th District.

But that new money is now supporting Virginia's bottom line.

"I think it's disingenuous to the general public where they think the lottery funds are additional revenues for schools when they are not," said Alan Seibert, Salem City Schools Superintendent.

Educators say many people think playing the lottery provides more money for education but that's not the case.

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"We're seeing the lottery money so to speak not be icing on the cake but we're seeing it become the cake itself. So the general assembly can decrease what they gave to public schools before from the general fund because now they can use the lottery money as part of the base of what they fund public schools," said Meg Gruber, Virginia Education Association President.

"Whether you call it money or extra money there would still be a half billion dollar hole in the state's education budget without lottery funds," said Hagerty.

Right now lottery profits make up about 9% of what Virginia spends on education. Virginia spent more than $6 billion last year on education. While some like to say spending by the Commonwealth has risen per pupil spending has dropped and localities are spending more to educate students.

"I don't think anybody ever is going to say 'OK we've done enough investing in education, let's move on'. I think what you have to do is look at what's practical," said Del. Habeeb.

Republican Habeeb and Democrat Sam Rasoul both agree more money needs to go to education. How to get there may not be so easy.

"Biggest increase that I think needs to happen is in pre-K spending. We spend a lot of primary school just getting kids caught up and giving them the basic skills," said Del. Rasoul.

"We need to continue to find ways to invest in education in a smart way and I think will keep doing that," said Habeeb.

Investment educators are looking forward to.

"We could put programs back in place, electives back in place, smaller class sizes so our students get the one on one attention that they deserve," said Gruber.

Governor McAuliffe is expected to release his budget next month and has said education spending is a priority but of course lawmakers will have to agree to it.