Lawmakers in several states are tapping innovative sources to fund educational technology initiatives—from state lottery proceeds, to tobacco settlement money, to funds from late tax payments that were stuck in the mail.

In Georgia, state officials say residents’ costly pursuit of the recent $363 million Big Game state lottery jackpot will result in additional money for school programs this year. Total Georgia lottery ticket sales hit a record high of $76.8 million in the week ending May 6, roughly $30 million above a typical week and almost completely attributable to surging Big Game ticket sales, officials said.

Georgia directs a minimum of 35 percent of all gross sales of lottery tickets to school technology purchases, upgrades, and internet connections, along with school construction and a handful of other educational programs.

This school year, according to state officials, approximately $32.6 million has been raised from lottery proceeds, with each school system receiving a minimum of $53,000. When broken down, the figures indicate that each full-time student in Georgia was allotted $23.10 in lottery funds.

“Almost all the funds gained through the lottery have to be invested in things that will last, such as hardware, software, and connectivity,” said Phil Thomas, Georgia’s director of education technology.

The Georgia Department of Education also has earmarked $15.4 million to pay one technology specialist for every four K-12 schools in the state, according to Thomas.

Lottery funds are used in addition to the $10.2 million granted to the state in the form of federal Technology Literacy Challenge Fund money, which is distributed to 82 schools across the state on a competitive basis.

Tobacco money

Some states have proposed using a portion of the $206 billion settlement with the tobacco industry as an innovative way to fund school technology programs.

Oklahoma legislators are embroiled in a debate about what to do with their share of the settlement, which could amount to $42.3 billion in tobacco money in the next 25 years.

Republican Gov. Frank Keating has proposed using $500 million toward capital improvement bonds for higher education and common education technology in Oklahoma. State lawmakers oppose this budget proposal, preferring to use the money to build an interest-bearing trust fund during the next 25 years and use the interest gained from that source to fund various projects.

“The bond program would give us $100 million for technology funding. We’re holding out hope, but right now we are still at gridlock,” said Oklahoma Education Secretary Floyd Coppedge.

Though he questions whether the capital improvement bonds will be approved, Coppedge thinks programs like the one proposed in Oklahoma could be a boon to education.

“We would use that money to make sure all our schools are connected. Oklahoma has a large number of rural and small schools that can’t deliver upper-level courses to their students,” he said. With the extra money, “we could offer upper-level classes using an electronic delivery system.”

Budget surpluses

California is also involved in a debate about how to spend approximately $600 million of the state’s huge budget surplus to buy and maintain computers for its schools.

California is well below the national average in students per computers, with one computer for every 14.8 students. The proposed funding would place the state above the national average of one computer for every 9.8 students, ensuring one unit for every eight students in California public schools.

In his original January budget plan, Democratic Gov. Gray Davis said he would earmark $200 million to purchase computers and train teachers, but in a May revision of his budget plan, Davis increased that proposal by $400 million.

The $600 million in question would allow the state to buy up to 700,000 computers for approximately $700 each, or 350,000 higher-end computers for about $1,500 each.

“That would really be a big leap toward putting computers in our schools,” said Ann Bancroft, a spokeswoman for the governor’s Office of Education.

In an informative briefing, titled “Investing the Dividends of Prosperity: K-12 Education,” Davis proposed spending $325 million on hardware and $50 million on connectivity.

The plan would create 36 hubs across the state that would enable K-12 schools to connect to the University of California’s Internet2 backbone, which state officials call “the backbone of next-generation internet connectivity.”

Davis allotted $25 million for technology teacher training in his original technology plan, but he doubled that figure in May. Top-priority funding would be given to high schools that do not offer advanced placement courses, allowing them access to online course work.

Lost tax returns

On the other coast, Connecticut has proposed using some “found” money to improve K-12 technology funding.

State budget officials announce in early May that thousands of income tax returns, which had been stuck in the mail, will be raising Connecticut’s budget surplus to $100 million.

Republican lawmakers in the state want to stick with the original budget surplus plan, which would set aside any additional money from unforeseen sources to fund school technology and debt reduction.

“The first $10 million of additional surplus will go directly to wiring schools,” said Chris Cooper, press secretary for Republican Gov. John Rowland. Cooper said the state will use $5 million in surplus funding for high-speed voice and data programs intended to connect K-12 schools to state colleges and libraries and $2 million to create a statewide Digital Library. An additional $1.2 million will be allocated for distance learning, he said.

California Governor’s Office

Connecticut Governor’s Office

Georgia Department of Education

Oklahoma Governor’s Office