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LOTTERY FAILS TO PRODUCE A BONANZA FOR SCHOOLS

SHARE LOTTERY FAILS TO PRODUCE A BONANZA FOR SCHOOLS

Idaho's public schools aren't hitting the jackpot in the Idaho lottery.

This year, lottery officials project that the fun and games will raise about $6.5 million for school construction and equipment. That's less than 1 percent of the money schools will spend to educate students."You appreciate having it, but there isn't any thought that it will buy the school facilities we need in Idaho," State Superintendent Jerry Evans said.

Even though it is not as much money as an Idaho Powerball top prize winner could walk home with someday, the money is being used to build classrooms and expand technology in the state's schools.

That's reason enough to call the lottery a success, Rep. Kitty Gurnsey, chairwoman of the House Finance Committee said.

"I personally thought the maximum profit would be about $2.5 million, and last year it was more than $15 million," she said. "I never dreamed they would get what they got."

Some school leaders say the lottery's glamorous image of free-flowing millions leads voters to believe that it is a substantial way of paying for schools.

"I'm sure there are some who would perceive that the lottery would solve all building needs for schools, but . . . the needs will always exceed the funds that are available," Boise School Board President Quinten Homer said.

Boise is projected to receive about $600,000 from this year's lottery revenue. Like about half of the lottery money used statewide, Boise has spent its lottery proceeds on additional classroom space.

Homer said money from the lottery, though nice to have, is neither a substantial nor consistent way of funding school construction.

The debate surrounding the 1988 approval of Idaho's first lottery was intense, and the public schools were named by supporters as the prime beneficiary.

Opponents cautioned that the state could follow the path of California, where lottery revenues were offset by decreased funding of public schools from tax collections.

Evans said he was fearful during the debate that taxpayers would overestimate the amount of money the lottery would give schools and oppose additional funding for schools from other sources. That sentiment appears to be materializing now, he said.

"I hear people asking, `Where is the lottery money?' "

Idaho lottery director Wally Hedrick agreed the general public may have expected too much from a game that is better designed to entertain its players than to be a funding source for schools.

"The average person on the street sees $53 million to $55 million in revenue and thinks that is going to the schools. Half of it is for prizes," he said. "So I do think there is a general misconception about the money that schools are getting."

About 54 percent of the money spent on the lottery for the current budget year will become prizes, officials said. Administration costs from printing tickets to paying salaries are about 11 percent. Retailers take commissions of about 5 percent of the revenue, and advertising takes another 3.5 percent.

The remaining 26.5 percent of the take is divided evenly between state buildings and school districts. The money is limited to capital expenses such as construction, furnishings and equipment.