Feeling lucky? State legislators were when they included $5 billion in this year’s budget that’s not in pocket. That sum was supposed to be delivered from the passage of Proposition 1C, a bizarre piece of legislation attempting to beef up the State’s lottery and sell the possible profits to the futures market.

Since 1984 California has had its lottery available to all dreamers and alcoholics. Payments to winners were capped at 50% of the revenue and schools received what was left over after operating costs. Lawmakers have examined other states’ much more successful lotteries and decided that offering bigger prizes would attract more players and boost income. Interesting concept– I’ve never voted on a proposition that had a clause about funding a gambling addiction hotline, but okay.

But wait, there’s so much more. The lawmakers decided to sell future profits from the lottery tickets for a quick fix of cash to cover this year’s budget shortfall. Ah, the greenest pasture in the land, the futures market, could now gamble on California’s gambling. How can lawmakers sell such a pie? Cutting education funding out of the equation.

It’s not as bleak as all that, the education funding lost by selling the lottery to investors would be replaced by a lump sum payment from the General Fund (which is empty) and then readjusted afterwards by evaluating attendance and cost-of-living standards. Right now money that schools receive from the lottery are based on the amount of money spent on the lottery. In the future this money will be from the General Fund with a bottom baseline guarantee. Which means that in the future California may find itself in similar financial straights as right now and still owe a guarantee once floated by ticket sales.

I’m not ethically opposed to state sponsored gambling– hell, maybe the Indian casinos could help bail us out. However, I am opposed to the idea of selling futures to investors, especially when the budget analysts concede the payback would span 20-30 years and would most likely result in having to pay out from the General Fund. The same fund that also guarantees additional education funding which was once covered by lottery sales. The profits of which were sold long ago for a couple billion dollars to shore up a bad budget by lawmakers who had created a ballot measure that received advertising from a gambling machine company.

Image from the California Lottery website, unattributed.

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You want politics? California has politics and Proposition 1B is this year’s winner for most blatant bought and sold measure of the election. The inclusion of this initiative was an attempt to appease the California Teachers Association who have been threatening legal action over educational funding. The hook was tying this to Proposition 1A; if voters reject 1A, which they likely will, 1B cannot take effect even if it passes. If you were wondering why the CTA is advocating the entire budgeting package being voted on, this is your answer.

The short version is that the voter approved Proposition 98 guarantees school funding except for particular circumstances, such as nearing bankruptcy. As revenues have declined sharply over the last year or two the funding for schools suffered and there’s legal ambiguities as how this matter should be resolved. The placing of Prop 1B was a pacifying measure that would pay schools back the lost budget which has the side-effect of also raising minimum funding guarantees in the future. So if the state is broke in two years time there would be no legal ambiguities– the money would have to be produced.

I’m all for education and frankly my experience with the public school system here suggests they could do with the money. However laying a blanket over a fire isn’t a way to put the fire out, it just sends the blanket up in flames.

Image from Fight Crime.org, taken by Duncan McIntosh. Stolen from fight crime, ha!

An amazing opportunity is afforded to a bright young man living in the small coastal village of Andhra, India. Although his father is a traditional healer and he is expected to follow in the family footsteps the local school administration, recognizing his academic talents, have the boy fill out some forms. Soon he was sitting through his grade examinations and, after having passed, was granted admission to the Navodaya Vidyalaya, a national network of schools set aside for talented youth who would otherwise be stuck in underfunded and underachieving institutions.

A Navodaya Vidyalaya is a school which is staffed by carefully screened instructors and populated by high scoring and intelligent students. It is a free service which provides room and board, supplies and stipends for travel by bus and rail. There’s just over 550 such academies spread throughout almost every state of India and have been operating since the mid-80’s; three-quarters of all admissions are reserved for children being brought in from rural conditions to afford them the opportunities they could never find back home.

Presumably this system of advanced education is funded by the government, which is probably why Shantanu Dutta of Around and About finds reason to praise India for this achievement. For such a troubled country with massive poverty, racial strife, an incredible economic gap, wide-spread corruption and temperamental utilities he wonders why anyone would bother paying taxes and finds some solace in this unique branch of the national education system. A part of me shares his enthusiasm– of course it’s great that some kid from the sticks who shows promise can be catch a lucky break and land placement in a good school. However, another part of me wonders what happens to a school when you strip the best students to be raised in isolation, and save the best teachers for these high-performing institutions.

One of the mission statements of the Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti is to prepare and then encourage their rural students to return to their homelands and make what improvements they can with the benefit of their superior education. I wonder how the kids left behind, growing up under hardship with little of the amenities granted their more learned peers, feel when the prodigal sons and daughters return to try and revolutionize the home village. Is it at all fair to abandon the hopeless slow-learners to their fate and rescue the bright bulbs, teaching them privately how to shine for the future good? Obviously with the investment in these specialty schools there resources not going to the standard regional schools and those making the sacrifice, the students left behind, suffer the most for their former classmates success. (more…)

Kyle lives down in Chile with her husband S. and the dog, Papito, which they rescued from the streets. She has a couple blogs of her own and gets paid for articles on several others; she’s also a professional photographer who sells her prints through an American company and recently had some of her work hung by the American Embassy down in Santiago. She writes about Chile with a clear eye but never seems to be overrun with cynicism, despite it being warranted. This is why I have her site link in the blogroll.

Her husband works in construction and she’s just posted about his co-worker who has been struggling to support himself and his family while hoping to someday catch a lucky break and be able to afford admission to a prominent technical college. The breaks have all been unlucky and so Kyle and her husband have decided to sponsor his education, being in the unique position to help someone whom they know, who they know is hardworking and who they feel deserves the opportunity to find a better life through education. To help offset the cost she’s flogging photos she has taken living in Chile.

I don’t expect anyone I know to really start shopping for whatever reason and I know the city-raised among us cringe at the idea of doing something even remotely like what Kyle and S. are doing since we can’t even five someone living in a trashcan a quarter without feeling like we’ve been had. Still I wanted to share because I’m really impressed that someone has taken their various resources (financial stability, web presence, photography skill) and united them to help someone else. Even if they end up footing the entire college bill themselves without any proceeds from pictures being sold the idea’s great and will hopefully lodge in people’s heads to gestate. One day maybe they’ll find themselves in a similar position to help, think back on this, and make things happen.