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Nicky Herring scratches a $30 lottery ticket at Bell's Smoke Shop in this 2014 file photo. The ticket was not a winner.

BY THE NUMBERS

$14 million: Unclaimed lottery winnings each year in Tennessee

23,000: Number of Tennessee students who participate in lottery-funded after school programs

79: Number of agencies receiving LEAPs awards

$13,845,500: Amount awarded in 2014

Source: Tennessee Lottery Corp.

Tamara Humphres isn't too worried about cashing in the winning scratch-off lottery ticket she got in an office gift exchange over the holidays.

"I won $2. Have I gone to claim it yet? No," said Humphres, the after-schools program coordinator for the Cleveland City Schools district in Cleveland, Tenn.

That's because unclaimed lottery winnings fund about 75 percent of the After-School University that Humphres oversees. The Cleveland City Schools program, which serves 150 children daily at all six of the district's elementary schools, in August won a three-year grant of $200,000 per year from Lottery for Education: Afterschool Programs (LEAPs).

The money helps keep prices low for parents, who pay a maximum of $12 a day, although about 60 percent of them get a discount. The lottery funding also helps keep the after-school program fun, by paying for such extras as having kayaking instructors visit over the summer to put on a demonstration in a school swimming pool.

Cleveland City Schools isn't alone in using unclaimed lottery money to bankroll after-school programs.

An average of about $14 million in lottery winnings goes unclaimed annually, Tennessee Lottery spokeswoman Kim Gerlock said. Sometimes, it's large amounts, such as a $2 million Powerball ticket sold in 2013. But mostly, Gerlock said, it's small amounts from scratch-off tickets.

It all goes toward LEAPs, which served more than 23,000 at-risk students in more than 200 locations across Tennessee during the 2012-13 school year.

"It adds up for us," Humphres said.

The most recent LEAPs grant competition was held in the spring of 2014. Seventy-nine agencies including local school districts, community and faith-based organizations received grant awards totaling $13,845,500, Tennessee Department of Education spokeswoman Kelli Gauthier said. Grants are awarded in three-year cycles. The next grant competition will be held in the spring of 2017.

In Georgia, roughly $36 million in prizes went unclaimed for fiscal year 2014, Georgia Lottery spokeswoman Kimberly M. Starks said.

The unclaimed winnings help fund Georgia's prekindergarten program, which served 84,000 children during the 2012-13 school year. It operates in all 159 Georgia counties in local school systems, nonprofit and for-profit child care learning centers, military bases, colleges and universities, the program's website says.

While school districts are happy to get the grants, lottery ticket buyers sometimes wish they had collected their winnings.

"Every now and then, people will come in and say, 'Hey, I found this ticket on the floor of my car,'" Gerlock said.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu @timesfreepress.com or www.facebook.com/tim.omarzu or twitter.com/TimOmarzu or 423-757-6651.

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