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Could video-poker cash fund school settlement?

August 01, 2000

Could video-poker cash fund school settlement?



West Virginia's legislative leaders are paying close attention to an attempt to settle a 26-year-old lawsuit challenging the way the state funds schools. The suit challenges schools' reliance on property taxes, but top lawmakers say there's no way they'll agree to kick in more state funds. We suggest they consider earmarking money from video poker for that purpose.

The suit was filed in 1975, on behalf of a Lincoln County mother, who claimed the state was not providing her child with an adequate education. Originally dismissed, it was reinstated by the state Supreme Court in 1979. Three years later, Ohio County Circuit Court Judge Arthur Recht ruled that the state's system of funding schools was unconstitutional.

In 1983, the judge approved a master plan for the schools that was meant to lead to action by the legislature. But although the plan was reviewed twice by the state Supreme Court, which recommended implementation, that never happened. In 1995, the suit was reopened, on the grounds that the state wasn't making any progress on the master plan.

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On Monday, the judge told lawyers involved that they could either start talking settlement on Tuesday, submit the case for a decision immediately or start calling witnesses. Prior to the opening of court Monday, lawyers told the judge a settlement was at hand.

If that settlement involves more state funding, we recommend lawmakers consider using new revenues that will be available when the state moves to legalize payouts on the 9,000 to 10,000 "gray" video poker machines. The machines are supposed to be for amusement, but store owners often pay winners illegally.

For several years, the state has tried and failed pass a bill regarding that. We have opposed a further expansion of gambling, but there seems to be little sentiment for outlawing them altogether, as South Carolina did recently.

Our advice: If this practice is going to be legalized, its ill effects should be balanced by devoting revenues from it to education. In an ideal world, such compromises wouldn't be necessary, but that's not the reality West Virginia faces today.

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