Lottery overplays its hand in Michigan School Aid Fund


Returning from spring break, my student told me that their parents planned a family vacation to Hawaii for her younger sibling’s spring school break. Could she go?

She was asking me for permission? Was she gambling that I forgot her sketchy attendance to my class and that she was one class away from getting dropped? Was she betting I would react impulsively and say, Yes, that’s wonderful; I’m so happy for you!

She should be so lucky.

I said, one more absence and I will drop you from my class.

People often have high expectations for the seemingly impossible and sometimes gamble to make their dreams come true. Like when President Joe Biden made a 2020 campaign promise to forgive student loans for college, all $400 billion worth. He was able to temporarily delay student loan payments for the duration of the COVID-19 shutdown, but a U.S. Supreme Court ruling prevented that from becoming permanent.

He did not give up.  Last week, Biden announced the SAVE plan that forgives $1.2 billion of student loans for 150,000 Americans. That was the work of an educated staff that studied the laws and found a group eligible for forgiveness.

That was not Biden’s luck. It was a wager that unburdening young people from high debt payments would enable them to contribute to our society.

People complain about the cost of quality schools and college, but the cost of poorly educated people is much higher in prison budgets. A good education at all levels is still the best way to secure a better future for individuals and communities.  It is something to invest in.

The Michigan Department of Education is advocating for sustained investment in education and not folding that hand after two years of back-to-back record-high government spending. In January, the department reported a royal flush of investment by the governor and Legislature in sectors of public education, such as mental health services, meals served at school and teacher workforce programs like Proud Michigan Educator.

Gambling should not be a major part of the equation of public education financing. That’s a poor way to finance education.

For instance, the Michigan Lottery raises a lot of money —  $1.3 billion in FY2023 — for the Michigan School Aid Fund. This fund for K-12 public education comprises state tax dollars, federal money and lottery proceeds. The lottery gets the money from people who play instant scratch-off games, daily games and the two multi-state games, PowerBall and Mega Millions.

The Michigan Lottery is rightly proud of its School Aid Fund contribution. So proud that in 2014 it established the Excellence in Education program. The Lottery recognizes a school employee each month and one each year.

Stay in your lane, Michigan Lottery. Regulate legal gambling in our state and give the proceeds to the educators so they can do their job.

Michigan should not rely on gambling to fund education. Parents with the financial resources/income save to pay tuition at private schools. Parents who do not have that private tuition money or who prefer public education rely on the state to make sure their children can go to good schools.

While people have been gambling consistently for over 2,000 years, sometimes people are urged by the Lottery to gamble by this saying, “You can’t win, if you don’t play.”

The current version of that is on the Lottery’s website. It says “Where the money goes: When you play, Students WIN!

What naturally follows from that is, “When you don’t play, students lose.”

I doubt most people who play the lottery are playing so they can fund schools. I don’t. I play to win the money. When I think about funding schools, I look at my tax bill, my assessment on my house, my kids’ teachers, their report cards and transcripts, and how they make a living. 

Gambling is playing a game for money. A photo of a Black boy appears in the Lottery’s promotional ad. But for African Americans, school is not a game.  It is a solid foundation yielding great results and progress for them and all Americans. 

This Black History Month, I observed a Black woman using her power in education.

The Michigan Department of Education recognized Matinga Ragatz as the Michigan Teacher of the Year for 2010-11. She won that while a teacher at Grand Ledge High School, in Eaton County. In 2017, she was inducted into the National Teacher Hall of Fame. I met her at Lansing Eastern High School’s Future Proud Michigan Educators program.

Ragatz is an action figure. That term is rarely used to describe people who hold doctorate degrees; rather, they are thought to study problems for too long.  But Ragatz was at the Lansing Eastern program to network support for her problem-based learning approach to education. She did not rely on luck. She made her case to a representative of Michigan House Speaker Joe Tate.

Her success involved luck, the type that is defined as preparation meeting opportunity. Her prep was an investment in her education. I support the Michigan Department of Education’s call for “adequate and equitable school funding.”  Rather than hope that the numbers fall our way, continued investment in public education ensures the re-establishment and maintenance of good schools in Michigan.


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