Guest Column: End the Lottery shell game

Last week, I announced an education plan that would demand more of schools and teachers in exchange for more resources—a plan that would reorder the state’s priorities to better serve children, and a plan that would end one of the longest-running and most deceptive shell games in our state’s history.

The Illinois Lottery was created more than 30 years ago as a way to help fund schools, but as everyone knows, lottery money went into the school fund and then out the other end. Today, the lottery provides less than one in 13 state dollars for education.

What we have done is come up with a way to guarantee that the money from the lottery meant for children and their education finally gets to them, and guarantee, by law, that every penny meant for education actually goes to education. That’s called fiscal responsibility. There is nothing fiscally responsible about allowing the lottery shell game to continue.

We inherited a lot of problems from previous administrations: a $5 billion budget deficit, a bloated government, underfunded schools, an underfunded pension system, too many people without access to affordable health care, and, of course, the Lottery shell game.

Without raising taxes, we closed the deficit, boosted education funding by a record $3.8 billion, became the only state to guarantee every child access to affordable, comprehensive health care, and we run state government with 13,000 fewer state employees than the previous administration.

With our education plan, we have a way to bring Illinois schools into a new era of promise and progress. Six billion dollars in operating funds and $1.5 billion in capital funds over the next four years will be the largest infusion of new money into education in the state’s history—and we can do it without raising taxes.

It means new and improved schools all across the state. It means more learning time during the afternoon hours and summer months. It means universal pre-school and full-day kindergarten. It means fewer school districts statewide, smaller administrative budgets, and more pay for outstanding teachers who are raising classroom performance.

It means up-to-date textbooks, well-stocked school libraries, smaller high schools and “identity” high schools built around themes that interest young people and prepare them for work and college. It means more money for special education, technology, and incentives for parents to get more involved in the education of their kids. For districts that are struggling, it includes more support. For those that continue to fail and refuse to change, it includes sanctions, including state takeover.

For 30 years, Illinois has trailed the nation in terms of education funding. Record state increases in education funding over the last four years has made a difference, but more work needs to be done. Our plan helps correct decades of neglect by previous administrations, and offers a challenge to future leaders in the state to sustain and build upon our commitment to education.

Leasing an asset like the Illinois Lottery is not the solution for every problem we face, but for something as pressing as education – it’s a sensible solution that makes a difference for kids right now—kids who have only one chance for an education—kids who are counting on us today to do right by them.

Of course, some have found fault with our plan. There’s always an excuse to do nothing, and some inevitably embrace that opportunity, even at the expense of our children. We can’t let their excuses prevail. We’ve already seen what happens when our leaders let inaction guide their policies. That’s not something our schools, our children or the future of our state can afford to live through again.

Thirty years ago, a promise was made to the people of Illinois: the proceeds from the Lottery would go to schools. This is our chance to finally make good on that promise. It’s our chance to finally make sure that the Lottery does what it was always meant to do: help our schools and help kids learn.

From the June 7-13, 2006, issue

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