Why Isn't Lottery Money Helping Oklahoma Schools?

Friday, September 18th 2009, 7:19 pm
By: News On 6

By Emory Bryan, The News On 6

UNDATED -- Questions arise about the gamble of relying on lottery money to fund education.  This week, Oklahoma schools were told to expect big cuts in their state funding.  Some have asked why the lottery isn't making up the shortfall?

The state spends $4.2 billion to educate 634,000 students in public schools.  The lottery is a small part of that, just over 1% of what's spent on education.

Oklahoma's lottery has generated millions of dollars for education, but not enough to plug the budget gap created by the declining economy.  The state treasurer says all state revenue is down.

"Unless there's a dramatic turnaround in the next few months, which I don't really see coming, I think it is very likely we'll see a continuation of cuts to state agencies," said Oklahoma Treasurer Scott Meacham.

Back in 2003, the lottery was presented as a way to help fill the gap for education.

"The current budget situation as you know continues to worsen and I think that underscores more than ever the need to vote on the lottery," said Governor Brad Henry.

Governor Henry made the lottery a priority of his first term, predicting $300 million a year in sales.

"I am not going to give up on the people's right to vote on the education lottery. I am not going to give up on doing something big for public education," said Governor Brad Henry.

Now almost four years into it, the lottery averages $218 million in yearly sales.  For 2010, education is estimated to get $66.7 million in lottery money.  That's the equivalent of $105 per student per year.

Considering Oklahoma spends $7,615 per student per year, the lottery amounts to just over 1% of total student funding.

Tulsa's superintendent says lawmakers need to consider all options to put more money into education.

"I certainly would hope legislative leaders would understand the severity of this," said TPS Superintendent Dr. Keith Ballard.

And in Arkansas, state leaders hope they can pay for college scholarships with the lottery.  They'll start selling tickets at the end of the month.  They're predicting $400 million a year in sales.