PI Original Angela Caputo Monday March 2nd, 2009, 6:10pm

Scrounging For School Dollars

For more than two decades, state officials have been playing a shell game with lottery revenues originally intended to provide Illinois schools with millions in additional resources, as The Chicago Reporter explained in a 2003 article: “The lottery does not ...

For more than two decades, state officials have been playing a shell game with lottery revenues originally intended to provide Illinois schools with millions in additional resources, as The Chicago Reporter explained in a 2003 article:

“The lottery does not materially help public schools because it does not generate additional funding,” said Ken Gotsch, chief financial officer of the Chicago Public Schools. “Instead, it has simply replaced state funding already in place.”

When the state sets its budgets for public education, lottery money is part of the calculation, even before the amount of lottery profits is known. The education budget includes state projections of lottery profits.

But state education spending remains the same regardless of whether lottery profits meet, exceed or fall short of expectations.

This year, State Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-Chicago) is out to change the system.

In early January, he introduced HB618, which would require that the state’s lottery proceeds be redirected from the Common School Fund, otherwise known as the “general fund,” to a Lottery Supports Schools account that would distribute the money—about $650 million each year—to individual school districts “based on the district’s percentage of lottery sales.”

Ford’s own 8th District overlaps with the 60651 zip code, which—between FY 1997 and FY 2003 —was in the top ten in terms of statewide lottery sales.

But Ford isn’t simply trying to bring home the bacon. His proposal grows out of the real desperation caused by Illinois’ problematic school funding formula, in which each district is overly reliant on local property tax revenue, creating devastating gaps in resources. He argues that distributing lottery revenues in terms of local consumption would help right the ship in low-income communities, where lottery sales are high and property taxes low.

Of course, the overarching question remains: How do we develop a more sustainable and equitable funding system?

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