In April, teams representing 75 Oregon schools - including seven from Central and Eastern Oregon - will compete in the "Scratch-It for Schools" event sponsored by the Oregon Lottery. Good clean fun for a worthy cause? Not according to Chuck Sheketoff, who sees it as a sleazy PR ploy.
"If a lottery is a bad tax on people's poor understanding of statistics, Scratch-it for Schools is nothing but a public relations scam peddling the lie that lottery games can be a panacea for schools' funding shortages, all the while validating gambling in the eyes of our kids," writes Sheketoff, who's executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy.
The way the event works is that teams of eight adults - four representing each school plus four local media celebrities -try to win cash for their schools by scratching off as many lottery tickets as possible in five minutes. Teams representing Redmond High, Madras Elementary, Crooked River Elementary, Jefferson County Middle School, Amity Creek Elementary, Paisley School and Fields Elementary will vie in Bend on April 17.
Sheketoff says the event is a farce because the money raised for schools is insignificant: "The Oregon Lottery boasts that last year it raised about $86,000 through the school-based gambling event. ... To some, especially kids, that may sound like a lot of money. Yet, considering that the state school budget is $6,245,000,000, the $86,000 is peanuts. Actually, it's just a few grains of salt on the peanuts."
Beyond that, he thinks Scratch-It for Schools could subtly encourage impressionable kids to think gambling is cool because "although students won't be allowed to scratch the tickets, they are likely to get caught up in the excitement and frenzy as their teachers, administrators and parents - presumably role models - frantically scratch tickets for a little money."
"Instead of helping promote the fantasy that playing the lottery will solve life's challenges," Sheketoff argues, "schools should teach kids the facts of life: taxes, not gambling revenues, are responsible for 90 percent of school funding. If schools want more digital cameras, books, assembly programs, playground equipment, computer hardware and software and field trips - allegedly what past Scratch-It for Schools winners bought with their money - they'd be better off working to strengthen our tax system's funding for our public structures."