Kansas Star Casino gives some back-to-school help

Some of the money gamblers have been shoving into the slot machines at the Kansas Star Casino is starting to trickle into the schools of Sumner County.

This is the first autumn that parents of students in the public schools in the county and in Mulvane are able to take advantage of the casino’s Kansas All-Star Scholars Fund, which is providing $100 prepaid VISA rewards cards for back-to-school supplies for each student.

Full-time teachers in those school districts who apply will receive $500 cards to purchase classroom supplies and other educational items that benefit their students.

With funds being stripped from school districts around the state, and parents continuing to struggle to meet basic expenses, the cards are easing some of the pain in Sumner County.

Lauree Kreifels of Belle Plaine saw her cards get used quickly on school clothes for four of her children who are enrolled in Belle Plaine schools.

Usually she saves up for such expenses.

“We try to, but you know how things go. Car repairs and things like that. This was definitely a godsend,” Kreifels said.

Kreifels said she doesn’t gamble, hasn’t been to the Kansas Star, and doesn’t plan to go.

But, she said, “If they are going to be there, at least they’re being good neighbors. It’s just a nice gesture to the people who live close by.”

The Kansas All-Star Scholars Fund, which is funded 100 percent by the casino, has given out most of the cards to the roughly 6,000 students in the county’s school districts, and it plans to soon begin distributing cards to the 425 teachers in the districts. The fund already has given $368,000 to the 2012 graduating seniors in the form of $1,000 scholarships for post-secondary education. That payment came a year earlier than originally planned because the Kansas Star, at the Mulvane exit of the Kansas Turnpike, got off to a fast start. Since it opened in December 2011, gamblers have given $98.9 million to the Kansas Star.

The fund is part of casino manager Peninsula Gaming’s $1.5 million commitment to education for the county, which it provided in its 15-year contract with the state.

Amy Brown of Wellington didn’t know if the Kansas Star would follow through on its commitment, but she’s glad they did, she said. She has two children in middle school and one in high school in Wellington. The cards will help buy them clothes, she said.

Brown had hoped the casino would be built near Wellington.

“But I’m fine with it being in Sumner County,” she said.

Kiley Tomasello of Mulvane has two girls in school, and as a single parent, she found the cards a big help providing them with backpacks, lunch boxes, pencils, paper, notebooks, shorts, tank tops and T-shirts.

To afford such back-to-school necessities in the past, she said, “I pretty much had to do what I would’ve done this year — not pay something.”

Pat Powell, a teacher in South Haven schools for 29 years, has applied for one of the fund’s $500 cards, and plans to use it to buy iPad applications for her students, as well as low-cost incentives and rewards such as bookmarks, pencils and certificates.

Classroom budgets have been cut and teachers will welcome the $500, she said.

“We’re looking at is as ‘Wow, this is something that can really help with the students,’” Powell said. “It’s going to impact children, there is no doubt about it.”

Wellington superintendent Rick Weiss said the funds for parents and teachers is significant. With recent cuts in state aid to education, classroom budgets have dropped to an average of between $200 and $500, limiting the ability of schools to offer students enhancements, supplemental materials and technology.

“Probably in every school in Kansas, those are the first types of things that would go,” he said.

“We’re very pleased,” Weiss said.

Teachers have to apply for the cards at They must say what they plan to purchase with the cards and give the cost of each item. Cards will be distributed in the next couple of weeks, said Megan Strader, the Kansas Star’s public relations manager.

Parents received the cards from their schools during enrollment. Those who qualify and haven’t obtained a card may pick them up at the Kansas Star next week from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays, except on Thursday when they have until 7 p.m. They must go to the casino’s Human Resources annex in the east parking lot, and bring ID and proof of their child’s enrollment.

Parents are required to turn in $100 worth of receipts by the end of August to show the casino that the money was used as intended, Strader said. If they don’t submit receipts, they may not be eligible to receive the cards in the future, she said.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle