Officials: Oklahoma lottery funds used to replace educational funding

OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma lawmakers will be forced to pay back millions to the Lottery Trust Fund after officials learned that the funds had been used to supplant education funding, rather than add to it.

When the lottery first came to Oklahoma, many believed it would help fund education across the state.

“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.

Since its inception in 2005, the lottery has sent more than $750 million to public education. Last year, lottery funding for education was $66.4 million.

The money that is given to education is split up between several different funds, and budget cuts recently have made the enhanced funding seemingly disappear.

For example, the $31.4 million for the K-12 school funding formula accounted for only 1.7 percent of the formula in 2014. When the agency is forced to undergo across-the-board cuts, those extra funds are absorbed into the cuts.

Now, the Oklahoma Board of Equalization learned that lottery money has been used to replace some educational funds in the 2017 fiscal year, according to the Tulsa World.

This fiscal year, education funding was reduced by 0.8 percent, while overall appropriations were cut by just 0.5 percent.

As a result, the Office of Management and Enterprise Services found that lawmakers believed that the Oklahoma Education Lottery Trust Fund would stand in for 0.3 percent of the educational funds. That amount equaled out to a little more than $10 million.

However, that is against the law.

When the state lottery was established, the law ensured than money raised through the lottery would be used to enhance educational funding. It specifically stated that educational funds could not be diverted elsewhere and replaced by the lottery funds.

Lawmakers now must appropriate the $10 million back into the Lottery Trust Fund before making any appropriations for the next fiscal year.

Currently, lawmakers are facing an almost $900 million budget shortfall.