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Education Funding

Mega Millions Winner Gets $521 Million. How Far Would That Go for Schools?

By Alyson Klein & Andrew Ujifusa — April 01, 2018 3 min read
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The Mega Millions jackpot hit a whopping $521 million this weekend, making it the fourth-highest in history. Some lucky winner in New Jersey will take home the prize.

So what might they do with all that cash? We have a few ideas that would make a dent: Purchase thousands of round-trip tickets to Paris for the winner and his or her friends and family, or even perfect strangers on the street; a zebra farm in Wisconsin; a clone of your dog; or a couple dozen luxury submarines.

But what if the winner decided: Hey, who needs an eight-bedroom mansion on the beach? I’d rather spend this money on federal K-12 education programs! Sure, that scenario is beyond wildly improbable. But something not dissimilar, on a smaller scale, just occurred, through a $29 million donation that helped thousands of teachers and students.

So with $521 million to work with in magical lottery money, we found 12 programs at the U.S. Department of Education worth just about the same amount of money. (That’s assuming the winnings would be tax-free—after all, this hypothetical, incredibly generous lottery winner would simply be giving money back to government.)

But which programs exactly? Here’s a handy chart, from the Andrew half of Politics K-12.

Of course, even in tax-free fantasy land, the winner may opt to receive a lump sum all at once, which would cut the winnings down to a still pretty-darn-impressive $317 million. What could that money buy?

For one thing, it would pay for the increase in Title I spending just approved by Congress and President Donald Trump.

This lump sum would also allow the winnner to fund—twice over—the Promise Neighborhoods program, which is getting $78 million this fiscal year to bring together academic and wraparound services, plus the $96 million Magnet Schools program, and still have cash left to buy a pretty nice house.

The $317 million lump sum could also pick up the tab for the Teacher and Leader Incentive grants program, which now receives $200 million in order to improve teacher and school officials effectiveness, and still more than quadruple currrent aid to Ready to Learn Television, which develops TV programming for children in preschool and the early elementary grades.

But let’s move beyond the Beltway. What if the winner just wanted to cover teachers’ salaries, which are generally funded by states and districts and not the feds, for one year? The average salary for a high school teacher was about $58,000 in 2016, according to U.S. News and World Report. Based on this average, the winner could pay 5,466 high school teachers next year with the lump sum.

School safety is obviously a huge topic these days. To address that issue, the winner could take the $317 million lump sum and provide tip-top safety improvements like bullet-resistant glass and mobile surveillance applications to 587 schools, at $539,388 a pop.

Even with that gigantic pile of money, however, the winner still might not have quite enough to avert a planned teacher walkout in Oklahoma on Monday. The state is trying to raise $450 million to keep its teachers—who are among the lowest paid in the country—on the job. But it’s not clear if even that amount will stop the walkout.

Things like gambling revenue and proceeds from sales of lottery tickets are, of course, often touted as a way to support education programs. This is the bet (sorry) New Hampshire made last year, for example. But the reality is often more complicated, as we explored a few years ago.

And here’s one more option: The winner could also mail a check to Alyson Klein and Andrew Ujifusa, care of Education Week. We will happily tweet them a “Thank you!” GIF similar to this one:

Top image by Getty Images