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Lottery fever brings cash windfall for Calif. schools

March 30, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
No matter who the big winner is Friday night, California's public schools will hit the jackpot. The schools will get a staggering slice of the Mega Millions pie. And that money will save education jobs.

The record Mega Millions jackpot brought out regular lottery players who bought more tickets than usual. Some are back in line to buy seconds and thirds, thinking they've figured out a different way to pick winning numbers. Mega Millions fever even lured novices.

All of that combined is racking up sales in California. Just the lunch hour alone saw 5 million tickets sold statewide Friday.

While players are dreaming about what they can do with the money if they win, so are schools. For every dollar consumers spend on a ticket, 32 cents go to California's financially strapped public schools. If estimates hold up, they could get more than $100 million just from this jackpot alone.

"With this current Mega Millions run, we're going to be pretty close to our all-time high as far as what we've given schools in any given year," said Alex Traverso, California Lottery.

While $100 million doesn't even come close to making up for the multi-billion-dollar cuts to education during the Great Recession, the extra money could save 1,000 teaching jobs.

"Even though it adds to about $16 per student, when you take a $100 million and figure out what that buys, 1,000 teachers is important," said Kevin Gordon, a public schools finance consultant.

The windfall could also help pay for transitional kindergarten, which is on the chopping block, or reimburse districts for state mandates like immunization and employee background checks.

Most people playing Mega Millions, though, weren't thinking about what their dollar does for schools.

"We're going to quit our jobs. It's going to be a good time," said lottery player Esmeralda Telez.

But they're happy about the side benefit.

"I have two daughters in elementary school," said Telez. "And I pay for a lot of their supplies and we donate a lot of Kleenex boxes, glue sticks. So that would help tremendously."


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