West Side lawmaker wants lottery money sent directly to schools

Print More

State Rep. LaShawn K. Ford knows from research data that people in poor neighborhoods buy more lottery tickets per capita than do residents of more affluent areas. He also knows public school students in poorer communities more 
often fail to test at grade level in basic subjects like reading and 
math, more often fail even to graduate from high school.

State Rep. LaShawn K. Ford knows from research data that people in poor neighborhoods buy more lottery tickets per capita than do residents of more affluent areas. He also knows public school students in poor communities more often fail to test at grade level in basic subjects like reading and math, more often fail even to graduate from high school.

High rates of lottery participation and low rates of academic achievement: In a rare kind of creative policy making, Ford sees a connection between those two data sets. He sees how schools in poorer areas could benefit from their citizens high level of lottery play.

Take House Bill 1601, for example.

Current law sends state revenue from the lottery to the Common Schools Fund, from which dollars are distributed to school districts statewide without regard to the origin of the lottery proceeds. The result is a reverse kind of redistribution of wealth – away from the higher-lottery playing, poorer communities.

Ford’s bill would create a new fund into which lottery profits are collected, with the money then sent monthly to school districts  “based on the district’s percentage of Lottery sales.” Ford has filed this bill regularly in the past but he feels a version of it can be enacted this year. 

As an option for the General Assembly to consider, he has proposed a limited, lottery-linked school choice measure in House Bill 1371.

This bill, which is posted for a hearing in the House Elementary and Secondary Education Committee next Wednesday (February 23), would create a pilot school voucher program that Ford said will affect about 1,000 schoolchildren – 500 in grade school and 500 in high schools.

What’s the lottery link? To be eligible for a voucher, a child’s parents or guardians would have to live in one of the 20 zip codes that generate the most lottery sales statewide. Chicago has 87 zip codes. Most of the eligible parents would likely be residents of poorer areas of Chicago.

Ford has another bill linking the lottery more directly to education than has been the case since the state legalized its “numbers game” in 1974. House Bill 1212 would create a lottery “scratch-off” game to generate funds for “After-School Rescue” programs.

A proposal by Ford with no apparent link to the lottery is House Bill 139, which is based on his belief that “social promotion” is still common in Chicago Public Schools, despite the district’s policy against the practice, and that many students are doomed by it.

The bill would require Chicago students whose reading and math scores are two years or more behind their grade to be identified, and then reassigned to classes that focus only on these “basic skills” until they catch up or graduate.

“If [a student is] in the 7th grade but he’s reading at 5th-grade level and nothing is done, it’s over for that student,” says Ford. Once a student falls that far behind, whatever the teacher tries to get him to understand is meaningless. He’s just going to school for nothing.”

Ford’s “Basic Skills Class” bill requires the Illinois State Board of Education to create the curriculum, establish learning standards and develop lesson plans for teachers to use.

Ford has been a member of the House for 14 years. He was a CPS teacher before becoming a real estate broker and is active in business, civic and service organizations in the Austin neighborhood.