Lottery money: Does it really help schools?

      School districts across the state are starting to prepare their school budgets that must go before voters in May. The news is not good. Most districts enter the budget making process with fewer state aid dollars expected, and higher costs for employee health care, pension benefits, fuel for school buses and to heat school buildings.So as we continue to report on these districts considering higher taxes, layoffs and program cuts to deal with the shortfall, we get the inevitable phone call or email from viewers wanting to know what happened to the lottery money that was supposed to go to schools.Well good question. So here's the information about it. It is no secret, it is posted on the same lottery web site where you can check to see if you have a winning ticket.

      In the 2009-10 fiscal year, the lottery took in 6.78 billion dollars in sales. The biggest chunk of that money, 3.95 billion dollars was paid out to winners. From the folks who may have won a lotto jackpot of several million dollars, to people like myself who collected three dollars.

      The next biggest chunk, 2.17 billion dollars goes to aid to education. The rest covers operating expenses, commissions to lottery agents, and promotion.

      The 2.17 billion sounds like a lot, but when you divide that up among all the school districts in New York, that doesn't amount to a whole lot of cash.According to the lottery, the typical school district raises 45.1% of their funds through property taxes. State aid, from sources other than the lottery covers 41.1 %. When you divide up that 2.17 billion dollars in lottery money across all the school districts of New York state, it amounts to just 4.8% of a districts revenue. 4.7% comes from the federal government and 4.2% from other sources.

      So there you have it. The good news is the lottery does provide billions of dollar for education. The bad news is, in the grand scheme of things, its only a small part of a district's budget. Lottery contributions don't come close to funding a district's needs.

      You can check out the lottery's facts and figures here.