A Sucker’s Bet: Lottery Provides Pennies Per Dollar Spent by California’s Schools

A few days ago, we asked readers to submit their favorite urban legend about the state budget. One reader submitted one of our favorites: “The lottery will fix schools’ funding problems.” This budget myth was born after voters passed the California State Lottery Act in 1984. Highway billboards tout the cumulative amount California schools have received from the lottery, but lottery dollars have always provided a small percentage of annual public school funding. In fact, since 1995-96 less than 2 percent of the dollars spent by California’s K-12 schools each year have come from lottery revenues.

Recently passed legislation awaiting the Governor’s signature aims to increase the amount of funding education receives from the lottery. However, even if lottery sales had tripled in 2007-08, schools would have received less than 5 cents from the lottery for every dollar they spent. Urban legends aside, the lottery will continue to be a sucker’s bet for those who wish to support public schools whether Californians buy more lottery tickets or not.

— Jonathan Kaplan

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