Education Lotteries Lose

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“Poor families are helping send wealthy students to college.”  

–Report from American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU)

Eight states use lottery funds for post-secondary scholarships and grants: Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia.  The lottery scholarships are very popular politically.

But the AASCU says the programs need to be altered to make them better serve those who pay for them.  “The poor and poorly educated buy far more lottery tickets than do the better-off,” the report, by AASCU policy analyst Kati Lebioda, reveals.

In terms of social equity, these educational support programs, funded by state lotteries, need to work better.  “The net drain on poor communities imposed by lottery programs remains extremely high,” the report concludes, urging much more be done to return more of the funds to the poor.

States that pledge their lottery funds for scholarships actually reduce their overall spending on higher education, the report states.  Lotteries provide little extra funding for education and have allowed tax payer funds to be shifted to other priorities while education funding is left to lottery ticket purchasers–who largely are the least well-off.

“After payments to winners, sales commissions to vendors and lottery administration expenses, only about 34 cents on every dollar generated by lotteries ends up in the state budget,” the report also emphasizes.

Lotteries often underproduce expectations, the report states, and returns diminish over time. Combined with escalating tuition costs, lower revenues force states to adjust their scholarship formulas.  Four of the states, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia and New Mexico, have reduced scholarship amounts offered or raised qualifications, which increases socioeconomic disparities, the report stresses.

Call this disconnect between those who pay for the lottery and those who get the scholarships unintended, tragic, wrong.  Horizonte, Salt Lake City School District’s alternative high school and adult education provider, through its Horizonte Scholarship Fund, provides scholarships from private donations to low income, mostly minority, formerly unsuccessful high school students, now graduates, who understand that greater educational attainment is the path to achieving their life’s goals.