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September 22, 2013

Bee Investigator: Where’s the big lottery money for schools?

The state lottery, which began in 1985, was supposed to take care of the schools’ funding problems, wasn’t it?

When proponents of the California Lottery tried to get it established in the mid-1980s, the selling point was that a bunch of money would go to the state’s public schools. Yet the news in recent years has been about teacher and salary cutbacks and tight school finances. What happened?

Sahndra Chavez recently wrote to ask about it: “Where did all the money go that was to go to schools from the sales of California Lottery tickets? Is there an office or someplace where I can see the allocation of where the money went?”

Yes. The state lottery has a great website ( with all kinds of information, including how much is distributed to each county, each school district within the counties and the total amount given to schools in the past year and since the lottery began in 1985.

According to the website, $1.32 billion was distributed in the 2011-12 fiscal year, the 12th consecutive year that more than $1 billion went to education. Last year’s lottery sales rose by 27 percent, to $4.37 billion in tickets. Since 1985, the lottery has funded $25 billion for schools, which has gone to K-12 schools, community colleges, the California State University system, the University of California, the juvenile justice system and other educational programs. The biggest chunk – $20.321 billion – has gone to K-12 schools.

The website trumpets: “The great news is that when lottery sales are up, education is the biggest winner of all.”

And it does sound like a huge amount, but in fact provides only about 1.3 percent of education funding statewide.

In Ceres, for instance, the school district received $1.82 million last year. Its operating budget is about $100 million.

“I think there’s a perception out there that the lottery is a huge portion of our operating budget. That’s not true,” said Ceres Superintendent Scott Siegel. “It’s less than 2 percent of our budget. I think it’s valuable money for the schools and I’m thankful to have it, but I think people need to know it’s not the solution to all of the schools’ problems.”

Some of the money is restricted and must be used for instructional materials such as workbooks and textbooks, he said. The unrestricted part can go to anything except for building costs. In Ceres, the unrestricted money is used to pay part of school nurses’ salaries.

Julie Chapin, associate superintendent of business services for Modesto City Schools, said all of its restricted funds go for materials such as music books and supplemental workbooks. The unrestricted money, she said, pays for substitute teachers and substitute classified employees. “We don’t use any of those funds for permanent salaries,” she said.

Modesto City’s elementary schools received $2.382 million last year, and the high schools received an additional $2.245 million. Sylvan Union School District received $1.93 million.

And, in case you’re wondering, the lottery can spend a maximum of 13 percent on overhead costs; about 50 percent goes to paying the winners, with the rest going to education. If someone doesn’t claim his or her winnings, that money also goes to the schools.

Sahndra Chavez said she thought gambling was illegal in California. Ah, the way we get around things in life. Gambling, in general, is illegal here. But the lottery and licensed card rooms are allowed, as is gambling in casinos on American Indian land. The preferred term for all of this is “gaming,” by the way. Sounds so much less addictive, doesn’t it? And yet, what do we do when we attend fundraising casino nights at church and service clubs, or buy raffle tickets at a high school football game or even pay to play bunco for prizes? It all comes down to games of chance, doesn’t it?

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