Lottery profits "a drop in the bucket" for school funding

SPRINGFIELD -- If you play the lottery, you probably feel comfortable spending a few bucks knowing, even if you lose, you're helping schools. But, with all the cuts to education lately, a lot of people are wondering if the money is really going where it's supposed to. WCIA-3's Steve Staeger investigates.

"How much of the lottery goes towards schools?"

"I have no idea, but not enough."

"It's supposed to go to the schools, but I wonder."

"Why do you wonder?"

"Because the schools are having all kinds of problems."

From folks on the street to Facebook, a lot of people have a lot of questions about the lottery.

One man says, "I was under the impression the lottery was formed to fund education and roads. So, why is the education system in Illinois the worst of all 50-states?"

Lottery superintendent Michael Jones responds, "The programmatic idea of how you fund education and how that funding turns into good schools is a legislative and gubernatorial function, not a lottery function."

Why is it not a lottery function? To put it into perspective, the lottery's total profits each year is about $2 billion.

"So the lottery makes about $2 billion in sales each year. We looked at the latest financial data for 2011. Here's an easy way to break it down. Say you spent a buck on a lottery ticket in 2011. 58-cents of it went back into the prize fund to pay winners. 30-cents went to schools. 12-cents went to running the lottery including commissions paid to lottery retailers."

So, of the $2 billion in 2011 sales, $630 million went to the classroom. That's a big number, but really just a drop in the bucket when you consider it costs $28 billion to run the state's 3,900 K-12 schools the same year.

"It is a substantial amount, but again, it's a fraction of the entire amount spend on the budget for public education."

Ben Schwarm is the deputy director of the Illinois Association of School Boards.

"It's a substantial amount of money. And it has been very steady. Again, if you look back 15, almost 20 years, it's almost $600 - $650 million each and every year coming from lottery sales and going to the Common School Fund."

The Common School Fund helps cover basic operating costs for school districts like paying teachers. Schwarm says people shouldn't be concerned. Their lottery money is going where it's supposed to go. It just takes a lot more to run a school.

"So, you're saying the lottery is honest and no politician or anybody is moving money around?"

"It doesn't seem to be. I've looked at the numbers. They take in about $2 billion."

"It surprises me. I hope it is that way."

"What we do is what every lottery does, is ask people to risk a small amount of money against long odds, to win a very large prize with net proceeds going to the common good."

The lottery started in the 1970's, but its profits didn't go directly to schools until the 80's. Back then, Governor Thompson actually vetoed the bill, worried the public would think the lottery was the only thing funding schools. Lawmakers were able to pass it a year later.

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