Raising The Grade: Betting on Education-part I V

Thursday, October 28th 2004, 10:19 am
By: News On 6

In less than a week, Oklahoma voters will decide the fate of an Oklahoma lottery. More than a dozen states already use the lottery to fund education. But does the gamble pay off?

This week's Raising the Grade takes a look at other states betting on education. News on 6 anchor Terry Hood says picking the right five numbers in the Lone Star State could land you a $23-million jackpot. But there's one group in Texas who's supposed to win every time, no matter which numbers pop-up.

Texas is one of 13 states that uses lottery money to support education. But educators here say it's not the jackpot they had hoped for.” The problem with that is that they give with one hand and take with the other." Shelby Patrick is the president of the Texas State Teachers organization.

He says as lottery dollars went up, money from the state went down. "The populous really does have to be careful with that because they will publicize the money that's being put in but they may not tell you the money that's being taken out."

On the Texas side of the border there's no guarantee that lottery dollars won't replace state funding for education. But here in Oklahoma we have a choice. We can pass a constitutional amendment to protect those education dollars. It's an idea we borrowed from Georgia.

Georgia's constitution requires 35% of lottery money go toward schools and it prevents state lawmakers from cutting other state funds for education. But even those protections aren't keeping education's slice of lottery money from shrinking.

Over the last ten years, Georgia lottery sales have doubled to top two and half billion dollars. At first glance it looks like education dollars are growing too, tripling to more than $750-million last year. But if you take a closer look, education's cut of the lottery money has actually gone down over the last decade. In fact, it's only hit the constitutional requirement of 35% once in ten years and last year, it was down to 28%.

We checked with the Georgia Lottery Corporation to find out why the percentage of lottery dollars going to education keeps going down. They said Georgia law states education should get "as close as practical" to 35%, not at least 35%. They also said they had to shift more money toward prizes to keep people interested in playing the lottery. Texas is continuing to play the game, but who knows if they're winning.

Schools get millions of dollars from the lottery. But Texas courts recently ruled the state's system of funding education is unconstitutional, because there's not enough money and it’s not distributed equally. "Had we not have a lottery would we still have the same problems, certainly I think we would. And I don't think by having the lottery I don't think it really helped the problem that much, maybe a little."