Judging by social media comments, there is a lot of confusion about public school funding.
In discussions on the proposed half-cent sales tax on the Nov. 3 ballot, people keep asking, “What about the lottery money? It was supposed to fund schools.”
This misconception has been around since the mid-1980s, when proponents were trying to persuade voters to approve a lottery for Florida.
It was sold as a way to enhance the schools.
This, in turn, is based on the misconception that spending more money on schools improves learning outcomes. There is no evidence to support this claim.
But it also reflects a misunderstanding of how politics works.
Local newspaper editorial writers warned that lottery money would only supplant other funding. This is what had happened in Illinois and other states that had begun state-operated lotteries.
Politicians merely had reduced funding from other sources as the lottery funds began to grow.
The other bit of semantic flim-flam was the idea of “enhancing school funding.” Every new dollar enhances, no matter what its source. Since it goes into recurring expenses, this year’s enhancement is next year’s ongoing funding.
The whole idea of enhancement was nonsense. People who thought the lottery was going to produce a bonanza for the schools were fooled.
The lottery has produced $37 billion for education since 1988, and education funding has grown substantially. But probably not any more than it would have without the lottery. Lottery funds simply have freed up other funds in the state budget, which have gone to other priorities.
Also, the lottery funds are for operating expenses, not to be used for capital outlay. The proposed half-cent tax for Jacksonville is to be used for that purpose – to build new schools.
No new schools have been built in Jacksonville for years. School officials claim they did not have the money to build them and are using a large amount of money to repair the aging schools.
But the existence of the Florida Lottery has nothing to do with the need for new schools in Jacksonville. That is related to how well school officials have managed the funds they had available to them.
Fear of a depression from the pandemic and anger at school renaming plans are working against the sales tax proposal but may be overcome by those willing to provide relief by paying higher taxes or who have been influenced by a million-dollar sales campaign.