Monday, August 27, 2018

Myth persists that the lottery
provides real help for schools

Illinois lottery supporters and participants commonly claim that the games increase funding for education. But a look at lottery revenue and expenditures shows most of the dollars from lottery sales don’t ever make it to the schools.

After 65 cents of every lottery dollar is given back in prize money, and operating expenses swallow another 10 cents, there remains just 25 cents of every lottery dollar going to public schools (2017). But even that remaining money does not boost school funding beyond what would otherwise be provided by the state.

Every dollar deposited in the common school fund reduces by a dollar the amount of money that schools get from other sources. In short, the idea that Illinois lottery money adds to education funding is a myth.

Education funding from lottery revenue has evolved into a shell game, explains Christopher Mooney, the W. Russell Arrington Professor of State Politics in the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Mooney explains that if the General Assembly is planning to spend $50 in a year on public schools, then without the state lottery, that $50 would be coming to school districts from the general fund. But, if the lottery provides $10 dollars to the school fund, state officials have two choices: they can either spend that much more money on schools than their intended $50 dollars, or they can lower the contribution from the general fund by $10. Illinois officials have taken the second approach, Mooney says.

What is more, lottery monies are only a fraction of state education spending. While the state spends $11.7 billion a year on public education, only $706 million, or 6.1 percent, comes from the lottery. Contributions from the lottery are small compared to the total needs of the state’s 852 public school districts (2017).

Finally, although revenue contributions to schools from lottery sales have risen from $668 million in 2014 to $706 million in 2017, the total contribution to schools is essentially unchanged when adjusted for inflation.