Unclaimed jackpot earmarked for colleges

Florida’s colleges and universities may soon be hitting the jackpot with state lottery funds.

Gov. Jeb Bush urged lawmakers Monday to use the unclaimed lottery jackpot to match private donations to Florida’s universities and community colleges. The jackpot is worth $30 million.

Bush had originally recommended three weeks ago that the money be spread among the state’s 67 school districts, but has since changed his mind and ordered a fifth special session.

Michael Rierson, vice president of advancement at USF, said the USF Foundation’s No. 1 priority was to lobby the Legislature to match private donations.

“This is great news for USF,” Rierson said.

USF is owed approximately $13 million out of the $125 million owed statewide. The tough budget year has left the state in a bind when it comes to matching private donations because donors are more willing to give when they know their gift is matched.

Some donors have said they would not give any more money until the state matches earlier gifts.

Rierson said there are two types of matching programs: endowments and facility. Endowment programs deal with items such as scholarships. The gift amount of endowments is invested and the revenues from the investment are used to fund scholarships. So, the investment is never spent and is continually available. The other programs are facility and deal with money being allocated for new buildings. This year USF was allocated $3.7 million in facility and $2.8 million in endowments.

“We are not here just to raise money but to raise the right money to make a difference at the university,” Rierson said.

The state matching gift program is done through the state’s Trust Fund for Major Gifts. This program matches privately funded endowments that enhance research and instruction at USF. Donors can give and designate endowments for any university academic program.

According to Michael Reich, director of media relations at USF, the matching grants are provided on a sliding scale. For example, if the gift amount is from $100,000 to $599,999, the state will match 50 percent of the gift.

Rierson added that if the Legislature approves the governor’s recommendation, the money allocated to USF would help a wide variety of programs from the Library to music education.

Lawmakers will meet this week for a short special session, Rierson said. Most likely the universities will know the decision of the unclaimed lottery money by the end of the week.