Since about the time the first California Lottery ticket was sold in 1985, the most common and enduring public misperception about education financing has been that the lottery should have pretty much taken care of school funding.
Most elected officials have found this public perception exasperating. The lottery accounts for only about 2 percent of school funding, they say. It was never intended to be the cure-all for school financing, they note. The slogan about kids being the winners, they say, was mostly just that โ a slogan designed to generate public support for the lottery initiative.
Controller Steve Westly has apparently decided to take a different tact in his campaign for governor: If you can't beat a public misperception, join it.
In a TV commercial unveiled yesterday, Westly lists "reform the lottery" as one of the chief planks of his plan for education. A spokesman said Westly will lay out details of the plan on Monday in a speech before an education advocacy group in Los Angeles.
Short of restructuring the basic scheme for dividing up lottery revenues โ half for prizes, about a third for education and the rest for administration and promotion โ it's hard to imagine what that plan might be. And to change the formula would almost certainly require a vote of the people to change the initiative they approved.
The campaign of Treasurer Phil Angelides responded quickly yesterday to the new Westly ad. "As Controller, Steve Westly annually audits the lottery and for four years he has failed to get more money for our schools," the Angelides camp wrote in an e-mail to political reporters. "Now he's counting on a half-baked lottery 'reform' plan to fully fund education."
The lottery provides about $1 billion a year to public schools, or about $125 per pupil out the about $7,000 per year the state spends on each child. In his first years as controller, Westly always trumpeted the quarterly payments his office made to schools in distributing lottery revenues. "The lottery program is paying off for California schools right when they need the money the most," he wrote in a 2003 press release.
We'll know the details of Westly's plan soon enough. It will be very interesting to see whether he's got an idea that could generate significant new money for schools, or whether he's simply figured out a way to pander to the uninformed perceptions about school funding that are coming out of his focus groups.