Fla. Bill Seeks To Strengthen Lottery, Education Tie
Florida politicians appear eager to make the connection between the state's lottery and education programs more visible, as the games that have created unexpected millionaires are becoming a bigger and bigger political loser.
Thirty-eight percent of the revenues generated by the Florida lottery were originally earmarked to enhance education. But over the past eight years, the state's share of education funding has dropped from 62 percent to 51 percent, leading more and more Floridians to cry foul.
"Instead of enhancing education, most of the lottery funds for public schools have been replaced, rather than supplemented," Frank T. Brogan, the state's elected education commissioner, said last week in announcing a proposed about-face in the use of lottery proceeds. "This is important both to enhance education and restore credibility to the lottery and government in general."
Under his proposed Lottery Restoration Act, a bill that would be phased in over seven years, lottery money would be removed from the state's general education fund and be specifically allocated to pay for pre-kindergarten programs, college scholarships, and classroom purchases such as new textbooks, computers, and new construction.
Mr. Brogan, a Republican, is not the first to jump on the lottery. Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat, criticized lottery funding for schools as a shell game during his re-election campaign last year, and other politicians have also argued that schools are not seeing their fair share of tight state funds. And some lawmakers intend to sponsor bills to earmark lottery proceeds for school programs.
Follow the Money
But Sen. Fred R. Dudley, the Republican vice chairman of the governmental-reform and -oversight committee, said lawmakers may be taking more criticism than they deserve.
While the share of state funding for schools has declined, the total is much higher than it was in 1985, he argued. Per-pupil spending has also increased substantially with the state's help.
"The problem is in identifying the flow of the money," Mr. Dudley added.
But the lottery's bad image is often cited as a leading reason why state residents balk at increased taxes. This year alone, Florida residents have turned back seven of nine local school-tax referendums.
An exit survey of 1,000 voters in Hillsborough County conducted this fall by University of South Florida political scientist Susan MacManus found as much.
An overwhelming majority of the voters said they distrust how education dollars are spent in Florida. Eighty-one percent of respondents said the lottery has not paid for schools as promised, more than the 77 percent who said that schools waste too much money.