Although hundreds of millions of dollars have poured into schools after the creation of the Oklahoma Lottery Fund, officials and lawmakers give mixed results to the measure, passed nearly six years ago, to help save education in the state.
State officials proudly announced this month that proceeds for schools from the fund reached the $350 million mark in the time period since voters approved a 2004 state question earmarking gaming proceeds for education. But with widespread agreement that problems with the state’s education system still are far from solved, some say the money is not enough and that new legislation could create greater transparency and revenue.
Rep. Scott Martin, R-Norman, said as a citizen he voted against the ballot measure because he thought education should be funded through more reliable means. And with the fund bringing in less money than he would’ve hoped, he said reforms are needed to adjust how it is allocated and to add accountability.
“On a regular basis it has underperformed, under-delivered and never met the expectations that those supporting claimed when it was originally proposed,” he said. “I think as the years go on, we’ll continue to tweak those funds to ensure a constant funding stream.”
Rollo Redburn, Oklahoma Lottery Commission director of administration, said he views the fund as a success already, and noted it is one of the fastest start-up programs in lottery history. In a time when education funding is especially critical with cuts to the general fund budget, he said it has been a welcome resource for schools.
“This is $350 million for education that we would not have without it, because the law requires that it not supplant any other funding,” he said.
However, he too said changes could be made to bring in more money. He said the commission argues the clause that requires it to allocate 45 percent for prize money, 35 percent for the education fund and 20 percent for administration and advertising costs is too restrictive.
By being able to increase the share for prize money, he said the games would be more popular and studies show that this would bring in more money for the education fund even if it is at a smaller percentage of the total proceeds.
“The question we always ask is, ‘Would you like to have $35 million that comes from 35 percent of $100 million, or would you like $40 million that comes from a smaller percent of a larger amount?’” he said. “Our mission is to maximize the funds for education, and our contention is (that) giving us more flexibility would give them more money.”
Sen. Richard Lerblance, D-Hartshorne, introduced, but failed to pass, a bill in the Senate last session that would eliminate the net proceeds minimum requirement. He said he still strongly supports the lottery education fund, and passing this measure would only strengthen its effectiveness.
“I think the Lottery Commission is doing a great job and providing a valuable service,” he said. “One of the main problems is that (it) is never going fill the hole, but it was never intended to. It is only a supplement.”
Another area of debate since the fund’s creation is how the education proceeds are distributed to the various common and higher education programs. According to the State Department of Education, in fiscal year 2010, the share of the education money was divided: 45 percent or $28,518,525 to common education, 39.5 percent or $25,032,972 to higher education, 5 percent or $3,168,725 to school consolidation, 5 percent or $3,168,725 to teachers’ retirement fund and 5.5 percent or $3,485,598 to CareerTech.
Since the common education money is appropriated to the state aid formula and then distributed to school districts, Martin said this method is less transparent than directly dispensing the money to schools. Sandy Garrett, state superintendent of public instruction, also has pushed for the state to directly send the lottery education money to school boards on a per-student basis.
“This would let them use the money for what they need the most,” said Shelly Hickman, a spokeswoman for the state education department. “Superintendent Garrett has said that this would help local boards better know how it is going to be spent, and it would show taxpayers more transparency in the process.”
Trevor Brown covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI and The Transcript, and can be reached at email@example.com.