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Sonoma County educators: Powerball gives small but welcome boost to school funding

About 37 cents of every dollar spent in California to help raise what on Tuesday was a $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot will go to the state’s public schools, including community colleges.

While that may sound like a big number, the schools’ share of the Powerball revenue is but a rounding error in the state’s proposed $71.6 billion in education spending over the next fiscal year.

Still, the current Powerball prize is so immense that the contribution from the California Lottery, which includes Powerball, Scratchers and other games, may well surpass the lottery’s $1.39 billion contribution last year to schools, including 6.2 million K-12 students.

In the past week alone, more than $220 million in Powerball tickets were sold in the state, equating to about $81 million for schools.

For comparison, Santa Rosa City Schools, Sonoma County’s largest district, with 16,700 students, has a current budget of $140 million.

Lottery contributions to school districts are between 1 percent and 1.5 percent of district budgets, said Jim Cerreta, deputy superintendent of business services with the Sonoma County Office of Education.

Despite bigger jackpots due largely to scratch tickets, the funding share has dropped from about 3 percent in the late 1980s and 1990s, Ceretta said. The shift developed as school budgets grew larger, driven by factors including increased enrollments and cost-of-living adjustments.

“It’s helpful. We’re extremely glad we receive it, but the public’s perception that it’s a significant funding source for schools is probably overstated,” Cerreta said.

But when it comes to schools, of course, any funding matters.

At Roseland School District, the money, some of which is restricted to classroom materials, goes to textbooks and also to contracts with the nonprofit Community Action Partnership for nursing services.

“It’s obviously really important,” district Superintendent Amy Jones-Kerr said.

The district expects to get $472,000 this year in lottery funding. The district’s entire budget is $33 million.

The 1984 law that created the lottery requires that 34 percent of its proceeds go to education. Scratchers, which have jackpots of as much as $10 million, contribute the bulk of lottery revenue. But a larger share per ticket of education funding comes from Powerball, Mega Millions and SuperLotto tickets, which are cheaper to make. About 37 cents of each of those tickets goes to schools.

In 2010, a change in state law lifted the cap on how much lottery revenue could go to jackpots. Since then, the total amount of lottery money going to schools has climbed substantially because more tickets are being sold.

“We’ve seen that every year, schools have received an average of $250 million a year to $300 million more than they did prior to that,” said Alex Traverso, a lottery spokesman.

Educators with long memories, though, recall promises made at the lottery’s inception that they say haven’t been kept.

“It’s nothing like when the lottery first initiated and marketed it - but it does negligibly support the school program,” said Gary Callahan, superintendent of the Petaluma City Schools District.

At the Wright School District in Santa Rosa, Superintendent Adam Stein said: “There was other funding that was taken away and we were promised that the lottery would replace and even enhance that - that never happened. The lottery would never equal the funding that was taken.”

The district has a $12 million budget and is projected to receive roughly $180,000 this year in lottery funds, according to the state Controller’s Office.

“It’s filling gaps,” Stein said.

Staff Writer Jeremy Hay blogs about education at extracredit.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach him at 521-5212 or jeremy.hay@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jeremyhay

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