The California Lottery has sent cash to the state’s public schools and community colleges for more than three decades, but the payday may be smaller than you think and certainly isn’t the cure-all some voters hoped.

In fact, public records show state lottery money is often a small drop in a much larger bucket that is a school district’s annual budget.

Nonetheless, every time school budget problems are in the news, readers always want to know: What about the lotto?

Here is Voice of San Diego’s crack at answering that question broadly, and specifically for San Diego Unified, which is working to cut $116.6 million from next year’s budget.

Thanks to a ballot proposition approved by California voters in 1984, public schools get at least 34 percent of all state lottery revenues based on the size of their student population. The money can only be used for instructional purposes and cannot be used to acquire property or construct facilities. Since 2000, a portion of the money must be spent on instructional materials.

All told, the California State Lottery Act has sent more than $30.95 billion to California’s public schools. More than $1.95 billion – or 6 percent – has gone to San Diego County K-12 public schools, and another $392.9 million has gone to local community colleges, according to data from the state controller’s office.

Out of that money, San Diego Unified School District has received $489.9 million to date, averaging $15.8 million per year from 1985-86 through 2015-16. Annual lottery revenues dipped as low as $8.85 million in 1991-92.

Local schools are budgeting $144 in state lottery money per student. Since San Diego Unified attendance is declining, lottery money is also projected to drop. San Diego Unified received an all-time high of $21.3 million last year, according to state controller data. District officials are expecting less than $19.4 million this school year, budget documents show.

That may sound like a lot, but recall San Diego Unified’s total general fund revenues this year alone are near $1.29 billion, and expenses are near $1.4 billion.

Here’s a look at the last 12 years of general fund revenues reported by the district compared with state lottery revenues, reported by the state controller.

“It is a small contributor to our budget,” San Diego Unified’s new chief financial officer Patricia Koch wrote in an email.

The money has been put to use, though, mostly paying for teacher salaries.

From 2008-09 through 2015-16, San Diego Unified reported spending nearly $137.78 million in state lottery revenue. Sixty percent went toward employee salaries, with the lion’s share – 55 percent or $76.1 million – going to teachers. Just 5 percent – $6.57 million – went to non-teaching staff salaries.

During the same eight-year span, the district spent $28.57 million in lottery money on employee benefits and $26 million on books and supplies, according to a review of annual district budget documents.

Though teacher salaries have benefited the most from state lottery funds, the money made up just 2 percent of the $4.3 billion total spent on teacher salaries those years.

Meanwhile, lottery money accounted for just 1 percent of the $2.26 billion spent on employee benefits and less than half a percent of the $1.56 billion spent on non-teaching employee salaries during the same period.

A drop in the bucket.

Ashly McGlone

Ashly is a freelance investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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