Is The Lottery Really Helping Oklahoma Education?
By Amy Lester, Oklahoma Impact Team
OKLAHOMA CITY-- You've seen the commercials from the Lottery Commission, implying school districts use lottery money to buy new buses, textbooks and computers, but the Oklahoma Impact Team found out, that's not really the case.
"The commercials are terribly misleading," said Terry Simpson, Guthrie Public Schools Superintendent. "The lottery commercials about what's been bought and so forth, it's not true here."
Simpson and other administrators explained the lottery money Guthrie receives, $138,129 last year, goes directly to support a teacher pay raise. The legislature earmarked lottery funds for that purpose, several years ago. School districts receive lottery money lumped together with the rest of their state aid, not in a separate check.
"Those raises have to be paid for every year so basically that source of revenue has gone to that ever since the raises were given," said Dennis Schulz, Guthrie Public Schools Assistant Superintendent.
The legislature passed a bill back in 2006, putting the entire amount of appropriated lottery money for common education toward a one time $3,000 teacher pay raise. At the time, that was $52.9 million. Interestingly enough, the lottery came in $21.8 million short that year. Since then, K-12 has received roughly $30 million a year, which is not even close to what was earmarked for the raise.
"Since that was what the first money was used for, that's the way it's all used now," said Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner. "It was supposed to be over and above but it isn't, it just simply is not."
Rep. McPeak did not vote for the bill. So, to find out more about how this happened, the Oklahoma Impact Team went to one of the bill's authors, former Sen. Johnnie Crutchfield.
"I wouldn't change it. If I could go back and redo it, I'd still be supporting the same thing," said Crutchfield.
Crutchfield said he always thought of lottery money as one piece of the pie, the legislature had to work with, when it came to education. He insisted, if the lottery money was not earmarked for the raise, the raise would not have ever happened, and Oklahoma would be losing more teachers to higher paying states.
"If someone feels that they were lied to, misled or whatever, I would say, I'm sorry you feel that way," said Crutchfield. "I feel like it stayed within the guidelines of what it was supposed to be used for."
While no one the Oklahoma Impact Team talked to questioned the need for the raise, everyone said they thought the lottery money would be used as discretionary funds, allowing districts to spend money as they choose. Having that extra money now could make a difference for districts that are struggling during these tough economic times.
"We wish it wasn't something obligated, certainly would help us right now," said Terry Simpson, Guthrie Schools Superintendent.
How the Lottery Money is Distributed
Only 35 percent of total lottery revenues go to education-- the rest goes toward prizes and administrative costs. Of that 35 percent, common education (K-12) and higher education receive 45 percent each. The remaining 10 percent is split between the school consolidation fund and teachers' retirement.
I'm disappointed in actually the percentages that are dealt out to public schools," said voter Cassie Prince. "I just feel that we need to put more of the percentage of our money into public education."
The Lottery Commission wants to remove profit restrictions and make prizes larger, saying that will increase lottery sales.
Former Governor Henry supports the Commission's suggestion and stands by the fact that the lottery is contributing to education, even though it's not as much as originally predicted.