Gambling Our Education

The Texas education system is facing a huge budget shortfall.  Texas teachers are worried about their jobs and the future of education.  You wanted to know where the funds from the Texas Lottery are going and why the profits didn't prevent this situation. Newschannel 6 Lindsey Forst talked with our local state lawmakers and a long-time teacher to find out just how much the game is actually helping Texoma school districts.

When the idea of the Texas Lottery was sold to voters back in the early 90's, it was portrayed as harmless entertainment that would raise huge sums of money and ease the tax burden on Texans to support their schools.

Now, school districts are trying to manage with thousands less this year after the legislature voted to cut $4 billion in public education funds.

"This is by far the shakiest time in education and to be an educator," Priscilla Gibson said. 

She is a band teacher at Archer City Independent School District. An instructor for 24 years, She said this is the worst financial situation she's seen for the Texas education system.

"There's just a lot of vagueness and a lot of, I think, unanswered questions for us as teachers have in the name of education, in the name of saving money," Gibson said.

She feels lucky to be at a school that was able to protect its employees. While a few department budgets, including Gibson's, suffered across the board cuts, it wasn't enough for students to even notice. But, as president of the school's chapter of Association of Texas Professional Educators, Gibson worries for other Texas teachers and their ability to continue to provide quality education.   

"All of those things that we had as teachers: security in our jobs, security in our income, it's all gone and handed over to the administrators," she said.

The funding reduction breaks down to a cut of $530 per student per year or equal to $13,000 per classroom per year.

"We didn't have enough money to go around and fund essential services," Senator Craig Estes said.

We reached out to local state lawmakers Senator Estes and Representative Lanham Lyne.

"Compared to last biennium, we actually spent $4 billion more on schools. what we did not do is keep up with the enrollment growth, so it ended up being net cuts, " Senator Estes said.

He and Representative Lyne both voted in favor of the Senate Bill. 

"You had two choices cut expenses or raise taxes.  At this juncture, I think the deepest feeling, not only at the legislature, but also among the people was 'don't raise my taxes,'" Rep. Lyne said.

With districts looking at thousands of dollars less this year, budgets were put under the microscope. Not only for a closer look at spending, but also, where the money to run public schools comes from.

The original Texas Constitution said education funding is a state responsibility and historically, the state has shared the cost of public education equally with taxpayers. But, over the past two decades, state funding has dropped.  The state has reduced its contribution from 52 percent to 36 percent. Leaving property taxpayers to pick up much of the remaining burden.

"I think the biggest problem we face in education is the funding mechanism.   We have this participation that's part local, part state and that fluctuates on the size of the school district, size of cities within school district and property values, of where the state comes in and funds more or less," Rep. Lyne said.

The Lottery raises about 2% of the education budget.  It breaks down to about $1 billion a year that's put toward the Foundation School Fund.  That's 27% of total lottery proceeds, or $.27 of every dollar spent on tickets.

The biggest portion goes back out for prizes, 5 percent goes to the stores that sell winning tickets, Another 5 percent to lottery administration and 2 percent to other state programs.      

"It was supposed to be fresh funds, but it never did.   It turned into, we'll use the lottery money instead of the general fund.   Nothing ever changed," Gibson said.

Newschannel 6 learned the amounts transferred to the Foundation School Fund are used to reduce the amount of general revenue provided to the fund. Meaning, the lottery didn't put additional money in the pot, when the lotto money went in, the money from the general revenue was taken out and put back into state coffers.

Since 1997, a total of about $12 billion have been transferred to the fund in place of general revenue.  In 20-10, the lottery raised about $1 billion. That barely covers the cost of three days of school in Texas.

"A billion dollars for ten million children doesn't go very far.   But, it's significant still to any budget of any school," Rep. Lyne said.

While Rep. Lyne doesn't support the lottery from a moral standpoint, he said we've become dependent on the funds it brings in.

"Replacing that billion dollars would require a fairly large jump in your taxes in one place or another," Rep. Lyne said.

Sen. Estes said the lottery is just too unreliable.

"I'm still not convinced it's good revenue source and we're going to have to come up with a lot more money to fund out public schools," he said.

Sen. Estes did not mention any plans that could replace that money. So for now, this is what school districts are faced with.

"We've put ourselves in a very difficult situation.   We know that's there now it's the choice of the legislature and how fund each district and each student in that district," Rep. Lyne said.

Teachers are preparing for more possible cuts.

"Even with what we have, teachers still pay out of pocket all the time things for their classroom all the time. We want the best for our students and teachers make the sacrifice but, unfortunately, we're the one making the sacrifice and not the state," Gibson said.

While she doesn't want to discourage aspiring educators, Gibson knows there are tough times ahead.

"Just being able to find a job is going to be very difficult because teachers are not letting go of their jobs," Gibson said.

Despite budget cuts, Archer City ISD has not had to lay off teachers or reduce pay. The district has joined in with more than one hundred other districts on a lawsuit against the state and the constitutionality of the Senate Bill that imposed the $4 billion in cuts this year. 

You can read more about that in our 'Texas Schools Sue State' story.  For a break down of where the lottery money goes click here.