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.


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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.

    This article relates to: Education, Must Reads, News, School Finances

    Written by Ashly McGlone

    Ashly is an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego. She can be reached at ashly.mcglone@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5669.

    13 comments
    shawn fox
    shawn fox subscriber

    It's a good article.  An even better question is what about the temporary tax that most voters just made permanent?  Why are we still cutting over 100 million from a budget even after massive tax hikes in a state with one the highest tax burdens even before that new tax?

    Michael Johnson
    Michael Johnson subscribermember

    Nice work! I don't think I have ever seen the subject really tackled. I still have a couple of questions, though.

    1) How much money does the lottery take in each year? Surely someone could tell you. And

    2) Where does the other two-thirds of the lottery money go, in brief? I realize you're talking about the schools, but I think that would be interesting, considering that most people (me) voted for the measure thinking it would make up for the loss of property taxes after Prop. 13.

    Thanks again for a lot of work on a big subject.

    shawn fox
    shawn fox subscriber

    @Ashly McGlone @Michael Johnson Where did you get 16% administration?  I saw the number between 12 and 13 percent.  I also wonder what "returned to the public" means.  Does that just mean it goes to the general fund for other government expenses?

    Ashly McGlone
    Ashly McGlone

    @shawn fox @Ashly McGlone @Michael Johnson Both lottery winner prizes and public education contributions fall under the "returned to the public" category. The maximum for admin costs originally allowed in the law was up to 16% for admin. That was reduced to 13% in 2010.

    Ron Hidinger
    Ron Hidinger subscriber

    Which, of course, begs the question: Why have the lottery?  Shut it down and let the mob reclaim its birth right.

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    The idea that the lottery would be a significant contributor to education was really just a marketing gimmick to get the initiative passed. This article is a good reminder of that. 

    craig Nelson
    craig Nelson

    Just shows you how bloated the education system is. If attendance is declining shouldn't staff be shrinking as well? 

    P C
    P C

    It would be nice that instead of asking EVERY year "Wont Somebody think of the children" and put a bond measure on the ballot and charging home owners, some who don't even have children to pay for schools. Why not demand the CA lottery pay more for schools and stop charging a select few? How about those who rent? Maybe when a bond is approved apartment owners should tack a rent raise of the distributed cost out to the renters. Maybe that would stop everyone from voting all the time for bonds. I never understood why people think that teachers don't get a decent salary when they work 9 months out of the year, and get more time off with the children taking time off than any of use with paid leave. Not attacking teacher as the cause of costs, it's the bureaucracy of the CA schools systems. Back to Lottery and CA. The lottery has never lived up to it's end of the agreement. Gambling is not something that should be allowed in CA anyways as it destroys families but if you do let that kind of behavior in CA at least make it worth it. Why do we need to be bombarded with costly commercials when the money is not helping our schools like they said it would? Next on the ballot should be a measure instead of more bonds to either end the CA lottery or they give what they promised to schools.

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    @P C "Don't tax you, don't tax me, tax that fellow behind the tree....."  I feel your pain on property taxes; I haven't had any kids in the California system (thank the Lord) for over 50 years, but they keep charging me for schools.  Shameful.  I have made a New Year's resolution, however:  No more "yesses" for school bonds.  


    As for gambling destroying families, that's certainly the case, but just wait until you see the marijuana problem stats in a few years.  We did it to ourselves, folks.


    Maybe I watch different TV channels than you do, but I can't recall any recent lottery commercials.  Now, if you want to talk about prescription drug ads......

    shawn fox
    shawn fox subscriber

    @P C I don't see how the "lottery" destroys families.  Perhaps other forms of gambling do.  By the way you are forgetting that a significant portion of the lottery income just gets used for other things which also benefit the public.  The fact that only some percentage goes to the schools doesn't mean that the lottery is completely useless.  The fact that the lottery only provides such a small amount to schools doesn't mean that it is useless.  The only gripe that I see as legitimate is that the lottery is essentially an extra tax on low and middle income earners who are the only ones that would buy lottery tickets dreaming of becoming rich overnight.  On the other hand, since the Rich pay the vast majority of income taxes maybe it isn't so bad even if it is a small amount.  The article is not an attack on the lottery system.  It is merely stating some interesting facts about it.

    shawn fox
    shawn fox subscriber

    @P C Property owners do raise the rent of owners eventually.  You can't make a profit without passing on expenses.  The problem as I see it is that it isn't immediately obvious to renters that property taxes will eventually affect them because the terms of a lease can't be changed immediately after an election.  However, renters eventually do pay property taxes indirectly.