Public schools can count on the California Lottery

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OPINION – A lucky man by the name of Edwin Castro may have claimed the record $2.04 billion Powerball jackpot recently, but he’s not the only one celebrating in California.

The cumulative ticket sales alone for that widely popular multi-state drawing also generated a record $156.3 million for California public schools – supplemental funding that local officials have discretion to use to uplift education, from retaining quality teachers and buying instructional materials, to sustaining important learning programs.

Big jackpot payouts always capture attention for their life-changing impacts. But just as significant is the more than $41 billion the California Lottery has delivered to the state’s K-12 public schools, colleges and universities since the first lottery ticket was sold here in 1985. In fact, the Lottery, a self-supporting state agency, has delivered at least $1 billion to public schools annually over the last 22 consecutive years through drawings and Scratchers® ticket sales. These contributions have risen to record levels – an estimated $2 billion in the most recent year – and represent promises kept by the Lottery through its mission.

In communities across California, this extra cash is making an important difference in enriching learning environments. It’s why we do what we do.

Some examples: In Monterey County, Lottery money has helped finance new computer purchases for students. In Ventura County, it has revived a middle school music program. New textbooks paid for with Lottery money have elevated foreign language programs for students in Contra Costa County. At Long Beach City College, Lottery money funds an entire program to train medical assistants, opening the door not just to jobs, but careers.

For multi-state drawings like Powerball, each ticket sold in the Golden State means about 80 cents to California public schools.

A Lottery that reliably raises supplemental funding for public schools is what voters intended when they approved the California State Lottery Act in 1984. This mission is the foundation of every decision we make and every piece of our operation.

In that time, the California Lottery has grown into one of the top three lotteries in the United States with more than $8.8 billion in sales in the most recent completed fiscal year. In all, more than 95% of revenue flows back into the community through prize payouts, public-school and college funding, and compensation for our 23,000 participating retailers which sell our lottery tickets.

As an audited state agency, maintaining the integrity of our operations is fundamental. So, too, is our duty under state law to maximize supplemental funding contributions to public education. We do it by optimizing the entertainment appeal and prize payouts that increase participation, which in turn leads to improved sales that spin off this money.

For multi-state drawings like Powerball, each ticket sold in the Golden State means about 80 cents to California public schools.

The State Controller’s Office divides up Lottery money that goes to public education. This funding is then distributed based on average daily attendance formulas for K-12 and community colleges and by full-time enrollment for higher education and other specialized institutions. Local and higher education administrators, along with elected school boards, decide how the Lottery funds are distributed and spent within their school systems. People can see how many dollars have been distributed at the local level – by district or county – using this interactive map on the California Lottery website.

No doubt the $997 million payout Edwin Castro is receiving will influence his life’s path. This potential exists with the hundreds of Lottery millionaires minted since 1984 – including 142 in 2022. Yet the larger hope driving our mission is that the supplemental funding we generate, while just over 1% of the overall state education budget, can continue to make a difference in elevating public education and improving the prospects for students across California.

Alva V. Johnson is the director of the California State Lottery


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