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A sure bet on gambling, education
By TALBOT "SANDY" D'ALEMBERTE, Special to the Times
Published January 18, 2008
In a previous column, I criticized the claims that legalized gambling provides money for education when the reality is that gambling taxes and lottery revenue have done nothing more than allow the Legislature to displace general revenue funding.
I would now like to give some thought to how we might deal with this issue.
Hollow promises have been made to the people of Florida, and any effort to redress the problem will require amending the Constitution, unless legislative leadership were to suddenly appear.
It is possible for the Legislature to adopt a procedure that would place a minimum expenditure on education funding, pegged to national averages of per student support, adding the gambling money for improvements above that level. This is possible, but not likely.
For some years, the Legislature has avoided leadership in support of education, leaving to citizens' initiatives such measures as the establishment of pre-K education and reduction of class size. These measures and the 1998 Constitution Revision Commission language calling for education as a "paramount duty" of the state and for "high quality" education have been consistently popular with Florida voters but, most often, have not been supported by political leadership.
If we want to see gambling revenues actually improve education, the solution needs to be one that is simple, self-executing and capable of court enforcement.
One way might be to adopt something like this:
"At every level of the Florida public education system (pre-K, K-12, community college, university and graduate school), per student funding from the general revenue fund of the state of Florida shall be at least equal to that of the national average of such education programs where they are in place. All net state revenue from gambling shall be in addition to the general revenue funding."
If this language were incorporated into the Constitution, it would require that Florida, so far behind the rest of the country in our support for education, finally provide adequate funding. Since the language would require that this be accomplished with general revenue money, the Legislature would be required to spend the gambling money, already designated for education, to actually bring Florida to an above-average level of support for education.
We might call this the "Lake Wobegon Solution," in honor of Garrison Keillor's description of that community where, he says: "All the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average."
Because Florida lags so far behind other states, the attempt to get to the national average will be a shock to the political system. The shock can be cushioned by placing a date, say 2012, as a deadline for this average funding to be accomplished.
If the Lake Wobegone approach cannot be achieved, then we should look for other ways to do what has long been promised from legalized gambling. We might require that gambling money be designated for need-based scholarships and other education programs that reach students and communities who most need public education at all levels, since the gambling money comes disproportionately from those communities.
Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte is a member of the Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, former president of Florida State University and a former member of the Florida House of Representatives.