The fix is in! Chicago gaming and school funding

I was greeted recently by this sunshiney, happy video.

It is all about how wonderfully a new gaming initiative will fund our schools!

Modern, light filled buildings. The most up-to-the-minute technology. 21st century kids deserve nothing less than the best.

We all know by now that neither the state, nor the federal government, nor the city fully fund education. Even when it isn't the best, even when it is a pretty low-budget proposition and doesn't look quite that shiny. They can't, or they won't, it doesn't really matter. CPS is in a big big hole, or so CPS says anyway, and it's because nobody is ponying up.

The Mayor's going to fix that, you know, by closing 54 schools. Oh, it won't save nearly as much as they thought at first, but whatevs. A shuttered school is a pretty cheap school.

I mean, I think that's why he wants to close the schools. But it also might be the quality of the schools. Right? Weren't they talking about that for awhile? Every child will go to a better school, that whole thing? Even though some of the "welcoming" schools don't actually have libraries? Or services and facilities needed by incoming students, like deaf kids and wheelchair using kids and autistic kids?

Is it money, or is it quality? It's so hard to tell. This operation seems to be rebranded every week.

But I can tell you one thing for sure.

Gaming is going to fix them both. It'll bring in the money and then it'll give us 21st-century quality. That's what the video says, and I, being a basically positive person, choose to believe it.

Except there's one slightly awkward thing about all this.

It's a sort of a deja vu situation. The ideas in the video sound very familiar to me, like I've heard them before....a long, long time ago.....

Like in 1985, say.

That's when the Illinois legislature declared that the schools would be the beneficiary of all proceeds gained from lottery sales.

Remember that? Actually the law is quite specific on this point. Here's what it says: "The entire net proceeds of the Lottery are to be used for the Common School Fund" (with, I hasten to add for accuracy's sake, a couple of minor caveats that don't amount to much).

And what is the Common School Fund? If you go to the ILGA website, you will find it explained with the brisk thoroughness that only government language can evoke. It's defined as a fund consisting of the interest on "the school fund proper" and "surplus revenue" with "1/6th part excepted." Interestingly, nowhere is the Lottery mentioned as contributing to this fund. But the recipients are minutely detailed, and include, but are not limited to, the following parties: orphans' tuition, home hospital instruction, regional superintendents' compensation, teachers' pensions, public university laboratory schools, and an education funding advisory board.

So, okay. The entire net proceeds of the lottery go to the Common School Fund. Good. Let's look at what that's meant for Chicago Public Schools since this connection was established.

Here's what the Illinois Lottery website ("Anything's possible!") has to tell us about how much has gone to schools. It's pretty impressive!

In fiscal year 2012, the Common School Fund received $639.8 million; the Capitol Projects Fund received $65.2 million; while four specialty instant games raised nearly $1 million for each of their respective causes.  All told, through fiscal 2012, the Lottery has contributed $17.5 billion to good causes.

Wow! Doesn't that seem like a lot? Why on earth do our schools not have $17 billion worth of better resources? Facilities? More teachers? Curricular material? Playground equipment?

It's a pretty simple answer. Let's see if I can state it simply. Lottery money was never intended to fund schools on top of other revenue sources. It replaces other revenue sources. All those property taxes duplicated by lottery proceeds are used for other things.

As the blog Education Matters stated in 2008, There was no requirement the lottery money be on top of what was already there. So, as lottery money comes in, it frees up other state tax money to spend elsewhere. How much education gets in the end is up to the annual political whims of state lawmakers and the governor.

This was known to be the case as far back as 1989. Here we have the Tribune citing the words of the dude who should know best:

It's not true that state schools get more money when the Illinois lottery makes more money, according to Louis Mervis, chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education Legislative and Finance Committee. State funds for elementary and high schools are determined solely by the legislature, not by lottery sales, he said Thursday.

The link between "more lottery sales" and "greater school funding" was pushed hard in Illinois Lottery marketing materials early on, but legislators complained that to explain what really happened with the money took up too much of their time, and besides, it wasn't even true.

Here's a CBS News report from 2009 about how the lottery fails to fulfil its rosy promises for schools:

Even when proceeds are earmarked for education, lotteries generally cover only a fraction of state education spending.

For example, in Illinois, where the state spends $6.5 billion a year on education, only $619 million, or one-tenth, comes from the lottery. In California, with an $84 billion education budget, the lottery funds only about $1.2 billion, or one-seventieth. In Florida, lottery proceeds cover one-twentieth of state education spending. In New Jersey, it's one-thirtieth; in Texas, one-fiftieth.

"We thought that it would be a windfall" says Michael Johnson, executive director of the Illinois Association of School Boards. He says the idea that lottery money adds to education funding is a myth. "The general public--they were fooled by this," he says. "The belief that that's additional money, above and beyond what we would normally get, that's the part that's not true."

"Well, it's certainly one of the worst votes I ever made," says former Illinois State Senator Dawn Netsch.

The report goes on to suggest that not only does the lottery not do what it says for education, but it may actually be harming education funding. Per-pupil spending has dropped in almost every lottery-funded state:

[O]ur investigation of government spending in the 24 states that dedicate lottery funds for education yields a stunningly bad report card. The percentage of state spending on education is down or flat in 21 of those states from coast to coast.

Down, for example, in the following states: Washington (-6 percent), New York (-5 percent), Missouri (-4 percent). It's down 3 percent in Florida, Illinois, Ohio, and Michigan and Oregon. Texas is down by one percent.

It's up in only three states--New Hampshire (+4 percent), Georgia (+ 4 percent) and Tennessee (+2 percent).

Would you have predicted that? I wouldn't have.

This being a national issue I want to cite one more article which speaks to the impact of lottery funding for schools nationwide. It just does not add up to a reliable revenue stream for the long haul. In 2012 The Washington Post asked "Do lotteries really benefit public schools?" Part of the answer cites the example of Texas.

In Texas...the lottery was sold to the public, as in other places, as a fun game that would reap big rewards for public education. According to the American-Statesman, in 1996, “lottery proceeds paid for about two weeks of schooling for Texas students.” By 2010, the money covered barely three days.

So. Whew. Lots of stuff about the lottery's effect on education funding.

Why were we talking about that again?

Oh, yeah. Wonderful new ways to fund Chicago's public schools. The mayor's great idea to tie "100%" of casino revenue to the schools.

Uh, Mayor, it sounds pretty shiny. But based on past experience I don't think we really want a fix like that.

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