Author: suem

The lottery, the under-educated and school finance

The biggest myth about the Texas Lottery over the years has been that it was going to put public education on Easy Street. It does raise money for education – it transferred more than $1.6 billion to the Foundation School Fund in fiscal 2019 – but that’s only a small part of the $50 billion-plus spent on Texas public schools each year.

The biggest irony about the Texas Lottery is that much of the money it raises for education is wagered by the least educated among us, and that share may grow, now that the Texas Lottery Commission is ready to launch a special partnership with Dollar General.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the Lottery Commission will make tickets available at every check-out aisle in all of the nearly 1,500 Dollar General Stores in Texas, which cater primarily to customers on low and fixed incomes.

Various studies of lotteries throughout the country have shown that lower-income people are disproportionately more likely to play the game, hoping to strike it rich on a lucky ticket. Not all poor people are under-educated, but many are.

The same Chronicle article cites a 2018 survey by the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs, which found that Texas Lottery players represented all income levels. But the survey also determined that the lower a player’s education, the more he or she spent on tickets.

Players with a high school education or no high school diploma spent almost four times the amount on lottery tickets than a person with a graduate degree. Players earning less than $20,000 a year made up the highest-spending group.

Then-Gov. Ann Richards had to twist a lot of arms to get the Legislature to approve the lottery during her administration in the early 1990s, and in doing so she, intentionally or not, helped create the myth about the lottery becoming a major funder of public education.

As the Chronicle points out, some legislators still can be heard criticizing the lottery as a “tax on poor people.” But in the end, most lawmakers find that preferable to coughing up more general revenue for schools.

Since 1997, when lottery proceeds were first dedicated to education, the lottery has contributed $24.1 billion to the Foundation School Program, the Texas Lottery Commission reports. That’s a lot of money, spread over 23 years, but it still is about half – or less – than the total public education budget for this year alone.

Deal with Dollar General revives concerns Texas Lottery is targeting low-income players

Proposition 4 is anti-public education

House Bill 3, which provided billions of dollars in new state aid for educator pay raises and other classroom needs, got most of the attention during this year’s legislative session, as well it should have. It had been several years since the Legislature made such a heavy investment in Texas’ future, and it happened only because TSTA members and other educators voted education first in last year’s legislative elections.

We replaced several anti-education incumbents in the House and the Senate with new lawmakers who knew that being pro-public schools was much more than and smile and a pat on the nearest teacher’s head.

But the Legislature, with the votes of several lawmakers who should have known better, also slipped in and passed a proposed constitutional amendment that will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot as Proposition 4. If voters approve it, its effects may not be felt for years, but eventually it could end up shuttering public schools and crippling other important services.

Proposition 4 would make it more difficult to enact a personal income tax, something that isn’t going to happen in Texas anytime soon anyway. But of more critical importance to Texas’ future, Proposition 4 also would wipe out a constitutional provision that dedicates any future income tax revenue to education.

This provision, the so-called Bullock amendment, was added to the Texas Constitution, with voter approval, in 1993, when the legislative majority had a much keener sense of the future and the growing needs of a growing state than the current state leadership demonstrates. The provision says that a personal income tax can be imposed in Texas only with the approval of a majority of Texas voters. And at least two thirds of the revenue from an income tax would have to be spent to reduce school property taxes and the remainder to increase education funding.

All that potential education funding will disappear if voters approve Proposition 4. The Legislature at some future date could still approve an income tax on a two-thirds vote of both the House and the Senate and, with voter approval, could choose to spend the money on anything.

Supporters of Proposition 4 would like you to believe that Texas has an income tax “crisis.” We don’t. With or without Proposition 4, the Legislature isn’t likely to approve an income tax for years. But sooner or later, lawmakers may have to consider an income tax to meet growing spending needs, and Proposition 4 will make their jobs more difficult, with schools forced to scramble for funding.

Proposition 4 could even provoke a more-immediate crisis. Because the amendment doesn’t define individuals as living persons, it could encourage business groups to go to court and seek rulings exempting corporations from having to pay billions in state franchise taxes. If they are successful, billions of dollars would have to be cut from education and other programs.

The only viable recourse for educators is to continue voting for education first. That will include voting for more education friendly legislative candidates in 2020…and voting AGAINST Proposition 4 this fall.

Early voting has started and will run through Nov. 1.