Also published at the Orange County Register
Last year I wanted to determine funding for computer science programs in our schools. During that research, it was puzzling that the numbers from the Lottery weren’t adding up. After analyzing profits and expenditures, it became clear that while revenues for the Lottery were skyrocketing, funds for schools remained flat.
Lottery revenues have more than doubled since 2010; its funding to schools has not. In 2010, revenues were about $3 billion, with about $1 billion sent to schools. Fast forward to 2018, and the Lottery took in about $7 billion, yet schools received only $1.7 billion from the Lottery.
Further, years of back-to-back public scandals demonstrate that the Lottery is rife with nepotism and wasteful spending, and every dollar wasted at the Lottery is money that doesn’t go to a classroom.
I called for an independent audit. It was clear we needed to review the growing disparity between the Lottery’s record-breaking revenues and its contributions to California’s public schools, as well as assess the culture at the Lottery.
The State Auditor’s report revealed what I suspected all along — the Lottery “cannot demonstrate that its current prize payout rate is optimal for maximizing funding for education,” and it “did not adhere to a requirement to increase its funding for education proportionate to its increases in net revenue.”
The audit confirmed that while lottery sales revenue has increased by 115 percent since 2010, payments to schools increased by only 66 percent. It also found that for at least the 2017-18 fiscal year, the Lottery shortchanged schools $36 million.
That’s just one year. California’s Lottery seems to have been short-changing what it owes schools for at least the past four years.
For perspective, $36 million could have purchased 3.6 million library books. It could have supplied 200,000 Chromebooks.
Voters created the Lottery to provide a stable flow of revenue to schools. Schools would get “at least 34 percent” of every Lottery dollar. However, the Lottery’s culture has evolved into one that places profits first and schools last. They are gambling with our children’s future.
To right this wrong, in January I introduced Senate Bill 891, to ensure our schools get the money they are owed by the Lottery. My bill would regulate the Lottery school funding program. It would require the Lottery to pay education the $36 million it owes. It also would mandate that the percentage of money schools receive stays consistent as Lottery revenues grow, and that there be an audit of the program each year.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s legislative schedule is truncated, and my fellow senators and I have been asked to reduce the number of bills we carry to keep the focus on these areas: COVID-19 policy response and action, budget accountability, review and improvement, and economic recovery.
I argue that given the enormity of the looming budget deficit—my bill to ensure the Lottery doesn’t continue to shortchange the funding it sends our schools absolutely fits in to this year’s narrowed focus; it is absolutely “budget accountability, review and improvement” focused.
The governor has threatened to cut $18 billion from the education budget. Given that, the increase in lottery funding in addition to the back payment of $36 million per year that the Lottery should be sending our schools is even that much more vital.
Our schools deserve the funds promised by the Lottery, and my bill would do just that. Why are legislative leaders refusing to let Senate Bill 891 be heard? Now is not the time to play politics. We need to come together during this crisis so we are best serving California.