Lottery Only Marginally Helps Fund Education, Tax Policy Experts Say

Friday, March 30th 2018, 6:38 pm

As the legislature injects new money into education, primarily through teacher pay raises, many people still wonder: wasn't the lottery supposed to fix the problem?

It hasn't and according to a tax policy expert, it never will.

The state gets a steady income from the lottery but it's never been even close to a jackpot for education.

Every time an Oklahoman forks over $2 dollars for a lottery ticket, the state, and education, gets a cut.

The numbers are huge, $835 million dollars for education, but that's the total since the lottery started in 2004.

The problem is that money is divided into categories for education and common schools get less than half. And while it's a reliable source of money for schools, it's been more than offset by other cuts made to education.

“It was unrealistic to imagine the lottery could pay for schools while we were cutting the revenue base out from under them,” said David Blatt with Oklahoma Policy Institute. 

The Oklahoma Policy Institute follows education funding and points out that lottery income started growing just as the legislature started making large tax cuts that decreased education funding overall.

“So, the lottery and gaming have been growing revenues by feet, while tax cuts have cut tax revenue by yards,” said Blatt. 

In 2008, the state appropriated $2,571,000,000 for education.

By 2016, the state cut that by $121 million dollars.

The lottery's peak contribution to education was just over $71 million dollars in one year.

Last year, it was $31.3 million dollars.

“That's probably less than most people expected when it passed, but the lottery was never going to solve our problems entirely,” said Blatt. 

There is a formula to figure out if the legislature is replacing tax money with lottery money, but for the most part, it doesn't account for broad overall tax cuts that impact all agencies.