RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and other city leaders announced plans Tuesday to establish an early childhood education trust fund that would use gaming tax revenue from the proposed Richmond Grand Resort and Casino. Casino opponents said the plan would rely on extractive practices to fund improvements for kids.
Stoney and Richmond City Council members Mike Jones and Reva Trammell voiced tremendous support for the re-branded casino project that Richmond voters narrowly rejected in 2021.
The city projects to receive $30 million in annual gaming tax revenue if voters approve a casino just off Interstate 95 in South Richmond.
“I am pleased to announce that we plan to establish the first ever Childcare and Education Trust Fund using the gaming tax revenues from the destination resort and casino if approved this November. This is a groundbreaking approach that will address both affordability and capacity,” Stoney said.
At the press conference, at T.B. Smith Community Center on Ruffin Road, Stoney promised trust fund money would go to build a new early childcare center. The plans also called for another childcare center at Southside Community Center.
“[The centers] will be privately operated and our estimate to serve up to 100 kids each. Secondly, we will dedicate $8 million to parks and recreation projects across the city,” Stoney said.
The mayor said the plan would also add new childcare and early education slots and make childcare more affordable by providing tuition assistance. Parks and Rec would receive $8 million to improve facilities.
Brendan King asked Stoney if he hoped the trust fund would bring out more ‘yes’ voters on November 5.
“I'm hoping that folks who need, who want the city to be a city that supports children come out and support this in November,” he responded. “That's that's all I'm looking for. We've identified the crisis in the city. We've also presented a solution to fix that crisis and it's my hope that if you agree with this solution, you come out and support the vote yes, in November.”
Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras voiced his support for the trust fund acknowledging the district wouldn’t benefit directly from the plans.
“This proposal is the next big investment in our children," he said. "No, it doesn't go directly to RPS but I can't think of a better investment in our children at RPS. As you have heard, there is no greater investment that we can make in our young people than their growth and their learning from birth to five."
Community members voice skepticism about funding childcare with casino money
Allan-Charles Chipman, a former city council candidate, is opposed to the casino on multiple levels. He points out in the past two years, Richmond received more than $275 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act and decided to only allocate a couple of million to the childcare crisis.
Chipman said the city should have allocated some those dollars for childcare instead of relying on what he said are unreliable economic projections from the casino developers.
“I think it’s a terrible idea to rob the parents to pay the kids," Chipman said.
“I don’t feel comfortable that developers and private interests get to come to the bargaining table to get what they want, but Southside has to go to the blackjack table to get what they want," he continued. "To do what’s virtuous and support our kids, we don’t have to rely on vices.”
Chipman and others argue Richmond go its chance two years ago, and voters decided to reject the project. The "do-over," Chipman said, is viewed by some as going against the will of Richmond voters.
"I don't think we can afford a roll of the dice for our democracy because developers and polticans didn't get the election results they wanted," he said. "The first referendum was about a casino. This referendum we need to focus on do we want to say our democracy is for sale or not, or do we want to say that referendums count and stand for something in Richmond."
City's response to ARPA criticism
City officials said the ARPA dollars they allocated to childcare already opened up dozens of new slots for childcare through non profits in the city. The early childcare and education trust fund, they said, would expand options beyond one time money.
"If $100 million was available right now, we couldn’t actually spend it all because we don’t have the people, we don’t have the facilities, and we don’t have the broad awareness building among families to trust congregate care," said Eva Colen, manager of Richmond's Office of Children & Families,
Stoney plans to introduce a resolution outlining the plan to City Council this week. The program only moves forward if the casino referendum passes in November.
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