Mayor Stoney and City Council have proposed using revenues from gambling to create a trust fund for childcare and education for the 2023 casino referendum. The trust fund proposal creates a headline without a real solution. Why establish a trust fund when more revenue should be dedicated to Richmond Public Schools? During the budget cycle for the 2023-2024 fiscal year, Mayor Levar Stoney introduced a budget that was over seven million short of what Richmond Public Schools requested. The city is underfunding the school district and this proposal will not directly benefit Richmond Public Schools.
Instead of creating a separate fund, the city should adequately fund RPS. Additional funds could be used to address the decrepit, unhealthy, and unjust working and learning conditions that are common in many of our schools. Students cannot learn in classrooms with nonfunctioning AC. They cannot learn when they and their teachers are sick from mold. About 70% of RPS schools had fire safety violations less than 18 months after a school burnt down. Our city cannot even guarantee our students’ physical safety and has deprioritized the well-being of its majority Black and Brown student population. The proposal also dedicates public funds for private early childcare. The city must invest its funding in public childcare, not private childcare. With more funding, RPS could expand preschool services. With more funding, the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation could expand after school and summer programming, as well.
Mayor Stoney has threatened to raise taxes if the casino does not pass. The reality is that there are solutions to address childcare and education beyond raising taxes on residents or building a casino. Mayor Stoney should focus on updating outdated software and ensuring the city’s Finance Department is fully staffed, which could save the city millions. The mayor should make better decisions with the revenue we have. Richmond has had budget surpluses. In 2023, Richmond gave a one-time real estate rebate to residents and businesses in Richmond. Most single-property owning residents received very little. The devised rebate gave back $175 to residents that owned property worth $350,000. Mayor Stoney developed this plan knowing that it would give hundreds of thousands back to companies like Phillip Morris and Dominion, companies with significant real estate holdings.
A casino is not the solution to address funding gaps in childcare and education. The negative impacts of a casino outweigh any purported economic benefits. Richmond leaders need to find better ways to support students in our city. This attempt to sell Richmonders on a casino is disingenuous. Casinos are predatory. They are associated with increases in crime and gambling addiction. They are connected to other predatory businesses such as payday lenders and increased rates of bankruptcy. The money that is put into the slots comes out of our pockets and stays with the casino. The role casinos play in providing cover for human trafficking is widely acknowledged; the American Bar Association has even held a symposium to study the issue.
Mayor Stoney has presented the casino as a financial fix, but it will only bring us more woes. At the end of the day, money put into gambling could be invested in other economic activities that could truly help build our community. As Richmond residents, union members, and RPS educators, we want to see an increase in our city’s commitment to childcare, education, and economic development. A casino’s predatory nature outweighs any benefits that are promised by politicians and casino developers. For this reason, the Richmond Education Association opposes the casino and proposed education trust fund.
It is important though that we acknowledge that residents of the 8th district, where the casino would be built, previously voted in favor of it. It is fair that residents in the 8th district would look to any economic development project as some form of progress because for so long they’ve dealt with the effects of systemic issues like redlining, high eviction rates, and environmental racism. However, 8th district residents and Richmonders in general deserve better. In the absence of true community-led initiatives to improve the conditions in our city, politicians and the interests of the rich elite they serve present the casino as the only option for progress. It doesn’t have to be this way. Our community, in coordination with labor unions, like the REA, congregations, community groups, and parent groups must come together to demand the things we all deserve.