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Drop-Off In Lottery Sales Will Hurt States' School Budgets

  • Leader
    Oct 22
    All right. Here's a story about unexpected consequences. People are
    buying fewer lottery tickets because of the pandemic, which is bad for
    convenience stores and gas stations. But it also means hundreds of
    millions fewer dollars for school funding. Peter Medlin of member
    station WNIJ in DeKalb, Ill., explains what's going on.Get more news
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    PETER MEDLIN, BYLINE: Last year, the Illinois Lottery set records
    sales. Proceeds from Powerball tickets to scratch-offs contributed $731
    million to public education. That translates to more than 10% of the
    state's funding for school districts. But the receipts don't look nearly
    as good this year. With more strict reopening guidelines, sales have
    plummeted. And revenue has nosedived nearly $90 million during the
    pandemic. Victor Matheson teaches economics at the College of the Holy
    Cross in Massachusetts, where he researches sports and the lottery.

    VICTOR MATHESON: So we do know, roughly, nationwide, money from
    lotteries plus other gambling constitutes about 2% of all state budgets
    in the country as a whole. So that's not huge. On the other hand, it's
    as much as states generate from, for example, state tobacco taxes, state
    alcohol taxes.

    MEDLIN: Forty-five states and the District of Columbia run lotteries.
    More than half of state lotteries funnel a portion of their revenue
    into education. Fourteen completely devote their lottery money to public
    schools and scholarships. In fact, in North Carolina they even call it
    the North Carolina Education Lottery. Officials tout that more than
    10,000 students received free pre-K last year thanks to the lotto.

    Schools in that state are now projected to receive about $30 million
    less than what they expected from the lottery. The pandemic lottery dip
    in places like North Carolina and Illinois wouldn't normally be a huge
    loss for public education. But Matheson says since it's happening at the
    same time as the recession, it's a small but irreplaceable amount.

    MATHESON: The drying up of lottery funding is just symbolic of drying
    up of all sorts of other types of revenue sources that state and local
    governments and schools all depend on.

    MEDLIN: Jeff Craig is superintendent of the West Aurora School
    District, located west of Chicago. He's feeling a bit of whiplash. He
    says, just before the pandemic, he was planning to add resources.

    JEFF CRAIG: All those folders are now in a filing cabinet because it's not something we can talk about for years to come now.

    MEDLIN: Now, Craig is trying to figure out how to pay for additional
    costs, things like sanitation, protective equipment and ensuring the
    emotional health of his students. When trying to calculate it at all,
    the losses add up quickly. Michelle Jahr is the chief financial officer
    at Rockford Public Schools.