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Does the Illinois Lottery pay for education? Well, sort of ...
By John Patterson | Daily Herald Staff

Sure, Lottery money does fund education. But that just frees up other cash to be spent elsewhere.

 

Jeff Knox | Staff Photographer, 2007

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Published: 8/2/2008 12:04 AM

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SPRINGFIELD - So the governor's talking about leasing out the lottery to pay for new roads, and many of you may be thinking: I thought the lottery paid for education.

Time to debunk one of the longest running myths in state government.

First, an answer. Yes, millions of dollars from losing Illinois Lottery tickets go to fund public education.

But, like many things in Illinois, there's a catch, and it's a doozy. Here's the tale behind it.

The lottery began in 1974, but the money wasn't specifically earmarked for education until 1985. That year, a new law required all lottery profits go to the state's schools fund, which helps finance kindergarten through high school public education.

That brings us to the catch.

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.

Second, the millions from the lottery are a mere fraction of the overall public education budget.

The lottery is projected to bring in $664 million for education spending in the coming year. By the time you add up all the state, federal and local tax dollars spent on education, the budget can top $20 billion, and even the lottery admits its contribution is about 3 percent.

But many people have a very different impression by no fault of their own. They may have been swayed by the state's $300,000 TV ad blitz back in 1986 that reinforced the notion that children and their schools were winning big thanks to the lottery.

Past marketing materials carried similar messages and told buyers, "The Illinois State Lottery thanks you for supporting education."

Today that "thanks" line is gone. Instead, the lottery downplays its role.

"Thus, while the lottery is a significant source of revenue, it has never been - nor will be - the primary source of school funding," reads a line on one pamphlet explaining where lottery money goes.

Should Gov. Rod Blagojevich's plan to lease out the lottery come to pass, there are provisions to set aside a portion to annually cover the schools' share.

Of note, two years ago, Blagojevich proposed selling off the lottery and using the money to dramatically increase education funding - $6 billion more over four years. But it quickly faltered, in large part due to concerns about what would happen to school funding in year five.