Why the lottery is not helping Oklahoma education as much as you think it should

OKLAHOMA CITY – As Oklahoma teachers plan a walkout after years of seeing no action from lawmakers regarding teacher pay, some Oklahomans are wondering, “Why hasn’t the lottery helped Oklahoma’s education funding problems?”

The Oklahoma Education Association is seeking a $10,000 pay raise for Oklahoma teachers over three years, a $5,000 pay raise for support professionals over three years, a cost-of-living adjustment for retirees and the restoration of funding for education and core government services.

OEA announced that it is tentatively planning a teacher walkout for April 2 if legislators don’t increase teacher and staff pay.

“Our goals remain the same- to force the legislature to pass a plan that provides teachers and support professionals a significant pay raise, and restores critical funding to our classrooms,” said OEA President Alicia Priest in a video posted to the union’s Facebook page. “We will not allow lawmakers, once again, to shortchange our students, our teachers and our support professionals.”

Year after year, Oklahoma school districts have been told to slash their budgets.  Something many schools districts have found difficult to do due to their already low budgets.

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

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.

Since its inception in 2005, the Oklahoma Lottery has sent more than $835 million to public education.

Oklahoma Lottery infographic : From Oklahoma Lottery

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.

According to the Oklahoma Lottery, since 2005, the state legislature divided the $835 million lottery revenue for education as follows:

  • More than $376 million has been contributed to elementary and secondary education
  • More than $330 million contributed to high education
  • More than $46 million contributed to CareerTech
  • More than $83 million contributed to Teacher’s Retirement System Dedicated Revenue Revolving Fund and the School Consolidation and Assistance Fund.

To break down those numbers even further for a single year, the Oklahoma Policy Institute reports that 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

“In a time of cash-strapped budgets, these contributions from the lottery are certainly needed. However, they are a small piece in the context of Oklahoma’s overall school funding needs,” the Oklahoma Policy Institute reports. “The $31.4 million that the lottery provided to the school funding formula this year makes up just 1.7 percent of the formula. It works out to just $46 per student.”

In some years, the amount of money the lottery provides to Oklahoma schools makes up less than 2-percent of the formula – meaning when our state sees mandatory cuts to government-funded agencies, the contributions from the lottery are not very noticeable.

When the agency is forced to undergo across-the-board cuts, those extra funds are absorbed into the cuts.

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

Oklahoma lottery funds used to replace educational funding

Last year, Oklahoma lawmakers were told they would 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.

In 2017, 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 were told they must appropriate the $10 million back into the Lottery Trust Fund before making any appropriations for the next fiscal year; however, it is unclear if lawmakers ever followed through.