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Editorial: Florida education budget crumbles without Lottery

The Florida education system finds itself in a bind yet again.

The state announced Wednesday that the Florida Lottery — which helps fund public education — is not generating enough money to pay for its share.

In July, the lottery sold $321 million in tickets — $21 million less than in July 2007.

As a result, the state is forced to tap into a pot of money reserved for education. That money comes from selling unclaimed property found in safe deposit boxes and unclaimed utility deposits.

The state is expected to pull an estimated $48 million from the $135 million surplus, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

And while the state has seen a decline in lottery revenue for years — to the point where it’s found itself in this predicament before — officials are still looking to the lottery system as their savior.

The state expects to replenish its funds in January when it enters the multi-state Powerball game. The state allocates about 7.5 percent of the lottery’s revenue to the education budget.

But astute critics in the Legislature question whether Florida should continue to rely on such revenue. A lobbyist from the Florida Education Association said that this is just a sign of a much bigger financial problem.

It’s bad enough that universities across the state have been forced to slash their budgets because of a lack of funding from the state. Now, they must sit back and hope some much-needed revenue will come in January.

An alternative for generating revenue is to raise tuition at State University System (SUS) institutions.

However, the differential tuition approved and enacted by the governor and the Legislature this year barely scratches the surface in making up for the budget shortfall affecting all SUS universities.

And though it’s a necessary move, it’s unclear whether additional increases would jeopardize the Bright Futures Scholarship Program, which is funded solely by the Florida Lottery.

The Legislature must call a session to find other ways to increase education revenue – or at least plug the holes that are draining its sources of money.

But in the middle of bad economic times, it is unlikely that the government would make a move that would dissatisfy its constituents, be it raising taxes or tuition.

Regardless of whether they want dissatisfied constituents, elected officials must remember that it’s inexcusable to virtually force learning institutions to sit back and wait until January to know their financial status.