Calmer weather in store this week

The lottery is giving money to Oklahoma schools, massive budget cuts just make it hard to tell

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OKLAHOMA – Earlier this year, districts found out they would have to slash their budgets.

It’s an unimaginable – and seemingly impossible – task to adjust their budgets at this point in the year.

Our schools are hurting, especially after finding out they must brace for deeper cuts in state funding.

In a statement, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister called it a “brutal time for schools.”

“A second General Revenue failure means schools will have lost nearly $110 million since the start of the spring semester alone, and that does not take into account next fiscal year, which looks equally bleak. Efforts that districts are making to cope with these cuts today will further impact the next school year, as they are forced to significantly deplete their cash-fund balances.

The Oklahoma State Department of Education has worked hard to minimize the cuts’ impact on instruction, but we are no longer able to soften the blow. Many rural districts indicate they will immediately initiate a four-day school week for the remainder of the school year. Educators are facing heartbreaking decisions that ultimately will affect students in the classroom. Our schoolchildren are the ones who will pay the steepest price.”

The budget crisis has left many Oklahomans wondering, “Why hasn’t the lottery helped Oklahoma’s education funding problems?”

The truth is, the lottery has helped some, but with budgets being slashed in recent years, Oklahomans haven’t been able to see much of a difference.

Money for education was the key promise behind launching the Oklahoma Lottery.

“What you hear a lot around here is that the lottery never lived up to those promises,”  Rollo Redburn, the executive director of the Oklahoma Lottery Commission, told KFOR in Jan. 2015.

Last year, Redburn said the lottery is bringing in $200 million a year and giving 35 percent of that to education.

Redburn says the other 65 percent of the earnings go back into the lottery to keep the program running and for the prize payouts that go to lottery winners.

So with about $70 million going to Oklahoma education each year, why don’t we see a difference?

According to the Oklahoma Policy Institute, in 2014, the state legislature divided the lottery revenue for education as follows:

  • $31.4 million for the K-12 school funding formula
  • $3.5 million for the School Consolidation Assistance Fund
  • $3.5 million for the Teachers’ Retirement System
  • $3.8 million for Career Tech
  • $27.6 million for higher education

“The $31.4 million that the lottery provided to the school funding formula this year makes up just 1.7 percent of the formula,” the Oklahoma Policy Institute reports.

So in a year when our state agencies have been ordered to take a 7 percent mandatory cut, the contributions from the lottery are not very noticeable.

The contributions certainly help, but are a small portion of Oklahoma’s school funding needs.

Read more on the Oklahoma Policy Institute’s Why didn’t the lottery solve Oklahoma’s education funding problems? here