Learn and Earn: All bets are off

For years, caravans of college students have made the rite of passage to Windsor, Canada to enjoy the nightlife — especially the gambling venues.

Due to 600,000 signatures submitted Tuesday for a November ballot initiative, those treks may no longer be necessary.

The signatures support the Ohio Learn & Earn Committee’s proposed amendment that would use slot machines at Ohio’s seven commercial horse racing tracks and two downtown Cleveland locations to fund scholarships and grants for students attending Ohio colleges or universities.

If you believe its sponsors, the proposal is sitting pretty with support, especially in cities like Cleveland — the ones bound to profit if it passes. In fact, the 600,000 signatures submitted were nearly twice the number needed to put it to vote.

So what will happen to revenues collected from the project? Like gambling, it’s all in the numbers. Thirty percent would go to the scholarship program, 8 percent to the county and municipal governments for economic development, 6 percent to Ohio’s racetrack purse funds and 1 percent to gambling addiction services. Casino owners get all the rest.

While it may seem a bit ironic to fund college education through gambling, we won’t argue this on moral grounds. If you disagree with gambling, then you should definitely vote against this bill.

But we have no problem with gambling. We do think, though, if you’re going to add slot machines to Ohio’s roster of legalized gambling, which already includes racetrack betting and the lottery, at least do it honestly. Learn and Earn is selling this amendment as a boon to education and seriously downplaying the gambling aspect. Just visit the organization’s Web site — ohiolearnandearn.com.

It’s that sales pitch that gives us fits: College scholarships for Ohio’s students? Awesome!

As with any dealing with casinos, beware the shell game.

First, scholarships would be given “based solely on academic merit.” That means for the first 12 years, according to the amendment, grants would be awarded to the top 5 percent of students at accredited high schools who attend colleges in Ohio. The other 95 percent would get nothing those 12 years — or longer, if revenues fail to meet expectations.

And then there’s the method for how scholarships are earned. Students will earn funds when they complete “core and advanced academic courses.” This raises the immediate question: Who determines which courses qualify?

We envision a future of parental pressure, where PTAs force school districts to adopt curricula that maximize Learn and Earn points. Forget designing a program that teaches students knowledge they’ll need to be good citizens or future life students — points, points, points may become the mantra.

It sounds a lot like the homogenizing of curricula that has been much-criticized as a result of President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” program.

Finally, we’re concerned new slot machines will suck billions in tax-free money out of the Ohio economy and into casino owners’ bank accounts. That’s right — the amendment bars the state from taxing the slots’ revenue.

So what happens if Ohio tax collections drop as a result of this initiative? How about this: The state cuts higher education appropriations because universities already get plenty of money from Learn and Earn. Farfetched? Not so much.

Gambling in Ohio? Bring it on. But Learn and Earn is not the way.

The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Summer Kent Stater editorial board.