Sunday, December 25, 2005

Shenanigans Alleged In California's Education Lottery

How's this for Christmas irony? California's state lottery, one-third of the proceeds of which are to go for education, has now become embroiled in a court case that threatens to substantially reduce this vital source of funding:
Everyone from educators to gamblers are concerned about the Mega Millions court battle involving the $3 billion-a-year lottery operation, which gives a third of sales to schools under the voter-approved Lottery Act of 1984.

A judge's decision early next year may end California's participation in the multistate game with jackpots that can climb into the hundreds of millions.

Reports by the Oakland Tribune led to the suit — filed by an anti-gambling-expansion group seeking to maintain the lottery's integrity — and brought to light a string of other developments.

Democratic lawmakers and other critics say the lottery went rogue, racing ahead with the new lotto despite lawmakers' pleas and a formal Legislative Counsel's Office warning that the Lottery Act requires games be operated within California.

Drawings for the 12-state Mega Millions game are held in Georgia.

Then in a development condemned by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration, the lottery admitted to undercover spying on its court opponents during a news conference.

Policy-setting lottery commissioners, appointed by Schwarzenegger, were grilled by lawmakers but cited an informal agreement on Mega Millions from the state Attorney General's Office and were confirmed.

Among the highest profile repercussions, so far, have been the departure of two top lottery officials.

Earlier this month, attorneys arguing on behalf of continuing Mega Millions were heavily grilled by a Sacramento Superior Court judge, who will rule early next year.

"The lottery is an out-of-control state agency that believes it is answerable to no one," said Woodland Hills attorney Nick Roxborough, who is representing Californians Against Gambling Expansion.

But state attorneys say the lottery was set up purposely like a business, the state's only money-making enterprise, to launch endeavors such as Mega Millions.

With the lottery and its integrity under a shadow, some players are leery.

"I'm not going to play the game," said Mark Carlson, emerging from a busy lottery sales outlet near the Capitol.

Other players just want to keep buying pieces of dreams at a $1 a throw, despite odds of one in 175 million.
As a classroom teacher in California, I can affirm that whenever funding is reduced, those cuts directly affect children in the classroom in the form of teacher layoffs, larger class sizes, and the elimination of educational programs such as art and music. (Even though we have about the same number of students, our junior high lost both its art and shop teachers this year due to layoffs; our librarian, school nurse, and home economics positions were eliminated some years ago.)

In my 14 years of service, I've never yet to see a single one of California's hordes of district, county, or state EduCrats actually lose his or her paycheck due to a reduction in funding. Oh, I'll grant that sometimes they'll shift around the "Organization Chart" a bit and announce some changes in job titles and responsibilities, but none are actually put on the streets or back in the classroom.

To the contrary, the number of EduCrats gets bigger each and every year, at least that's what we've observed down in California's "Imperial" Valley while the number of students served remains about the same.

Sadly, at least in California, it's the kids and their teachers who are always made to shoulder the burden of funding cuts, never the EduCrats who earn receive the high salaries, often with plush offices and secretarial staff.
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