ROGERSVILLE — Hawkins County is facing a $9.6 million cost to replace the ailing HVAC systems in both main high schools, but one county commissioner is gambling on gambling to help inject funding into maintenance of local schools and offset those costs.
On Monday, the Hawkins County Commission approved Chairman Rick Brewer’s resolution asking the Tennessee General Assembly to adopt House Bill 48, which would deposit 80% of Tennessee’s new sports gambling revenue toward K-12 public schools.
The bill, which was introduced by Rep. David Hawk (R-Greeneville), would inject new funding into public school facility maintenance, an issue that is always at the forefront of budget concerns for the Hawkins County Board of Education.
Director of Schools Matt Hixson told the commission Monday that his board supports HB 48 and approved its own resolution in January.
“As you know, most lottery funds go to higher education and other purposes,” Hixson told the commission. “This would specifically direct money from sports gambling, which is growing in the state of Tennessee and was recently made legal, and would divert 80% of those (state tax revenue) profits to the purposes of K-12 education — specifically for maintenance and construction of facilities. We do support it, and we want to thank Commissioner Brewer and Rep. Hawk for their work on this.”
Brewer told the Board of Education in January that based on early numbers, the revenue would amount to about $25 per student per year, which in Hawkins County would exceed $150,000 annually, although that number is expected to rise.
Hixson added, “Commissioner Brewer was one of the first commissioners to come to me after I came to Hawkins County and expressed an interest in supporting bills that would divert more lottery funds to K-12. That’s a lot of work, but this is a step in the right direction.”
Brewer said he feels it is unfair that higher education gets all of the state lottery revenue and public schools get none. Diverting some of the lottery revenue away from higher education would require a change to the Tennessee Constitution, which could take several years.
“Sports gambling is an opportunity for us to finally, hopefully get some money coming back to public schools,” Brewer said. “I’ll add this also — 15% of that money is supposed to have been set aside already and come back to county government, and 5% is supposed to be set aside for the addiction problem for gambling.”
Brewer said the resolution will be forwarded to all state representatives and state senators.
The Sullivan County Board of Education has approved a similar resolution.