"I think it's all about gaming. I think they're trying to pass it on the back by saying it's good for kids," said Jackson School District superintendent Dr. Ron Anderson.
If passed Nov. 4, Proposition A would raise the gambling tax from 20 percent to 21 percent, remove the state's loss limit and put a cap on the number of casino licenses available. The Missouri auditor's office estimates schools would receive an additional $105 to $130 million yearly from the changes.
All the superintendents interviewed said they would welcome the extra money but remained skeptical about the proposition's true intent and current revenue projections.
Distribution is connected to the state's education funding mechanism, known as the foundation formula. Because the 2005-approved formula won't be fully phased in until 2013, only a portion of Proposition A revenue could be distributed to schools initially. In fiscal year 2010, an estimated $54.9 million would be distributed, according to figures from the state education department.
The rest of the money would go into a "tamper-resistant" fund that "can't be spent on anything else," said Scott Charton, spokesman for the Yes on A coalition, which is backed by casinos.
About a fifth of Missouri districts, including St. Louis, wouldn't receive any funding through Proposition A next year or potentially beyond. Those districts fall under a separate provision of the foundation formula. Districts that have high local property values or districts that would have lost money under the new formula are funded through a separate mechanism. No districts in Cape Girardeau, Bollinger, Perry or Scott counties fall under this category.
In fiscal year 2008, Missouri casinos earned $1.6 billion and paid $327 million in gaming taxes to state and local governments, according to the Missouri Gaming Commission. Casinos would have to earn $2.1 billion next year to meet the Proposition A revenue estimates, said Evelio Silvera, executive director of Casino Watch and a spokesman for the No on A campaign.
"In these tough economic times, people would have to lose over $2 billion to hit estimates," he said. Silvera mainly objects to ideas that the Proposition A fund would be immune to tampering and he worries the funding would be subject to a "shell game." He said there is no guarantee general revenue funds would not be directed away from educational programs.
"The questions superintendents should be asking is not how much Proposition A will give you but how much will you lose from general revenue," he said.
Charton said the act specifically states the additional funding should not be used to replace existing funding. He said a required annual state audit would prove money was being spent as intended, and people could sue if "they feel money is not being spent appropriately."
Dr. Jim Welker, superintendent of the Cape Girardeau School District, said that "although we always welcome additional funding, I'm not sure this is the answer." Like others, he questioned the accuracy of projections.
"The economical conditions we're in can even affect the money we're receiving now," said Nate Crowden, superintendent of the Delta School District. "There is no doubt we could use the extra funds. But there would be some doubt in getting the extra funds."
Anderson said an increase would be "nominal" — less than one percent of the district's overall budget.
"I do have some reservations and skepticism. Are we putting the schools first, as it says, or are we repealing the loss limits on the gaming boats?" asked Oak Ridge superintendent Dr. Gerald Landewee.
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