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Why didn't the lottery fix education funding in Oklahoma?

Why didn't the lottery fix education funding in Oklahoma? (KTUL)

Why didn’t the lottery fix education?

It’s a question we hear all the time. Throughout the years, the lottery has given hundreds of millions of dollars to education, but it’s not that much money when you divide it all up.

The kids at Cleora Public Schools can explain it all for us less tech-savvy types. They speak with the lingo of the modern world, throwing around words like cortex, coding and programming.

“I normally do the autonomous part for our robots. You have to work on it, time after time after time,” said Halie Clowers, an eighth grader at Cleora.

Cleora is a school district on top of a hill in the middle of the country, but make no assumptions about being out in the sticks. The kids are on their way to a world robotics competition.

“It’s problem solving. We’re teaching kids patience,” said Marty Matzenbacher. “They want everything to work right away and it doesn’t always do that.”

Matzenbacher, a teacher at Cleora, said robotics is about problems and solutions.

The same could be said for education funding. The problem… not enough money.

One solution offered up more than a decade ago was the lottery. It was originally sold on the premise it would bring in hundreds of millions of dollars to Oklahoma schools each year.

“The money hasn’t changed, not for us,” said Matzenbacher. “I’m fortunate that this is a school that we have some funds to do (robotics). For most schools, their hands are tied.”

In fiscal year 2016, Cleora received $114 from the lottery fund.

You read that right… $114.

When Project Oklahoma asked the robotics classroom how much $114 would buy, no one could pick one thing on the robot that it would pay for.

In FY 2017, the lottery gave $53 million to the department education. That was divided into different education funds, so $33 million went toward school funding. That’s less than two percent of the entire education budget.

Because of the funding formula, some schools receive thousands of dollars from the lottery. However, there are others like Cleora that receive only chump change -- a couple hundred bucks or nothing at all.

“(Lawmakers) are so distant from what’s happening, that’s a programming problem I would think,” said Matzenbacher.

Though schools will take any money they can get, the lottery just hasn’t produced the education windfall that was promised. That’s partially due to certain games being cut and not having big lottery payouts.

“You’ve got to work from the base up,” said Clowers. “You’ve got to look for the problem and do it many times to identify it.”

If you can’t fix the problem, keep trying. Good advice from a girl building robots.

“If nothing gets done, it’ll probably get worse,” said Clowers.

But things are looking up.

A new bill passed in 2017 increased lottery payouts, so that will help increase the amount of money going to enhance education. According to lottery officials, they’re expecting to give $63 million to education. That’s a 20-percent raise but still a small amount of money when we talk about the entire education budget.

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