When the South Carolina Education Lottery was approved in a referendum 14 years ago, voters were told a majority of the profit would go towards college scholarships for in-state students. But state lawmakers say some of that money is actually going to pay for new “brick and mortar” construction at schools, which they did not intend when they created the program.
“As of late, there’s been some instances where it’s been used in technical colleges and some four-year institutions to actually do building projects,” House Ways & Means Committee chairman Brian White, R-Anderson, said Tuesday. White, who voted in favor of legislation creating the lottery in 2001, said the construction funding is legal but violates what lawmakers intended when they created the lottery in the first place.
He has proposed legislation that would specifically bar higher education institutions from using lottery proceeds towards capital improvement projects. His bill unanimously cleared the Ways & Means Committee on Tuesday, sending it to the House floor. No one spoke against the proposal during a subcommittee meeting earlier that day.
White said he was aware of five schools, including Midlands Technical College in Columbia and Francis Marion University in Florence, which had used lottery proceeds for construction. A Midlands Tech spokesman could not be reached Tuesday, while a Francis Marion spokesman said he would need to speak with school finance officers before responding.
Some legislators noted the scholarships are losing their relative value. For example, the lottery-funded LIFE scholarship covers $5,000 towards tuition each year at the University of South Carolina. The scholarship was enough to pay for USC’s nearly $3,900 in-state tuition in 2001, but falls well short of the $10,791 mark in 2014.
“The scholarship is not keeping pace with inflation,” State Rep. Kenny Bingham, R-Cayce, said during Tuesday’s meeting. “So as we’re not increasing it, what we’re doing is devaluing it. And we’re doing it to the benefit of other hands getting in the pot.” Bingham also voted for the lottery in 2001.
White said he would also like to see more scholarship money go towards textbooks.