As we sit and wait for the next school shooting to take place – one we all know is going to happen – I began to think about the other causes of these massacres. It easy to blame guns, video games, mental illness, drugs and other issues, because it’s easy to equate culpability.
While there is plenty of fault to go around, I believe we all can agree it is our goal – our duty – as parents and taxpayers to keep our children safe while they are at school, which takes money.
A few days before the student body (and teacher), body count increased in South Florida, President Donald Trump’s administration released its budget proposal for 2019. It included a $24 million cut in national school-safety programs. In the past, this money has been for “school-based violence prevention strategies.”
Source: State of Ohio
Where I live, in Ohio, the state’s education budget for primary and secondary education is $9 billion (in actual dollars) in 2017.
Before you lay blame on the president, which some non-thinkers immediately did, there are over 13,500 separate school district governments in the U.S. and $24 million amounts to nothing. If you divide that out evenly, it means each district would receive $1777. That’s almost enough money to get pizza for the senior prom.
There’s a bigger issue with school funding. It’s one rarely discussed and it hides in plain view of everyone. State lotteries.
In 2016, $73.7 billion was spent on lottery tickets in America. While it’s true most Americans don’t play, quick public school math says each American spends, on average, $325 a year on lotteries.
Source: Ohio Lottery
In many states the proceeds are to go toward education.
No matter the party, politicians cannot stop spending. Years ago as they were running short on cash they figured an easy way to raise money and tax people more was to get into the gambling business, just like the Mafia or Catholic Church. To get voters to approve lotteries they needed to sell its benefits and what better benefit than using lottery profits to fund schools. Money for education, for our kids and their safety. What could be wrong with that?
Like lemmings, plenty of voters approved state lotteries without reading the legalities in the fine print.
So where does that $73.7 billion in lottery sales really go?
About 66% is used for prize money. It’s used to pay the cash prizes and the annuity policies for the mega winners who choose to be paid over time.
Another 5% is used for operational expenses, like paying salaries for those working for the lottery and for advertising. In Ohio the lottery slogan is, “Take a chance on education. Odds are you’ll have fun.” It makes you feel good about losing a quick $20, if that “Jackson” keeps kids educated and safe, right?
The last 29%, and billions of dollars, goes back to the states. In some states the money is to be used to fund schools. And you’d assume this is true because that’s what’s you’ve been told – “take a chance on education.”
Here’s what they don’t tell you, the so-called fine print.
So let’s say your state budgets $1 billion for education during a year and the lottery brings in $1 billion in profit for that same year. That’s $2 billion for the schools, right? No. “Political mathematics” says this equals $1 billion.
While it’s technically and legally true the $1 billion in lottery profit is used to pay the costs of education, the other $1 billion the state had budgeted for education is now freed up. It’s put back into the general revenue fund to spend for unspecified stuff. A giant “slush fund” checking account if you will. And what’s better than a “slush fund” if you’re a politician that can’t stop spending?
It’s not really clear where a lot of this money actually goes each year. It’s a shell game. I’ll take it one step further. It’s “money laundering.”
At last look, 15 states use some or all of their lottery revenues to fund education, while others don’t. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, for example, uses its take from the lottery to help the elderly. Politicians in the Quaker State know where their bread is buttered. You need to take care of these old people, they vote. Kids, their schools and their safety? The hell with them.
In Wisconsin, the lottery revenues are used to lower property taxes. Every lottery preys upon the working class, minorities and lower income people hoping to hit it big. To put this as bluntly as I can, in Wisconsin, the taxes of wealthier property owning people are being lowered with an additional (albeit optional) tax on lower income people. Wealthier people vote. Lower income people don’t.
A professor at St. Mary’s College in Indiana, a fellow named Patrick Pierce has made it his life’s work to study lotteries. His research shows by a lottery’s eighth year, the money spent on education in that state is lower than if lottery tickets were never sold. The money that would have been used to keep our kids safe in schools and educate them is used for other things like tax cuts that voters love.
I’m all for lower taxes and will vote to lower my taxes any chance I get. Just remember, a lower tax in one place means a spending cut happens somewhere else. Many times it’s our kids that suffer and are put at risk.
Three of the 17 victims of the Parkland, Florida school shootings.
In Florida, billions have been raised for education from its state lottery.
As the federal government rolls back spending for schools and states cut education budgets, school shootings are happening with more commonality. This continued abuse of state lottery revenues is unacceptable as children are senselessly gunned down by the most evil in our communities.
We continue to allow state governments to lie to us about how lottery revenues are spent.
If you’re looking for a quick funding fix to pay for extra security and guards at schools, states must begin use lottery revenues properly. In 15 states we are told it’s for our children and their education. Why isn’t this happening?
You hit the nail right on it’s head! Many conversations at the dinner table covered this exact topic. My family is deep with educators… and this “shell game” has not been overlooked. Its absolutely maddening.