Lottery not a cure-all for education woes

April 22, 2010 3:41:12 PM PDT
As state and local leaders try to fix budgets that are wallowing in red ink, teachers are losing jobs and schools are facing deep cuts. North Carolina's Education Lottery is taking heat for not doing more.

Since the first ticket was sold, the state has made an estimated $4.6 billion in lottery sales. Of that, $1.3 billion has gone to education. Friday, the lottery commission will make another deposit totaling $112 million.

But the money can't stop the cutbacks. In a tough economy, the state's education lottery is no cure-all. Leaders say it was never meant to be that way.

"This doesn't nearly solve all of educations problems," offered Lottery Director Tom Sheehan.

According to state law, for every one hundred dollars spent, the lottery commission is supposed to spend $50 on prizes, $15 for administration costs, and $35 on education.

Out of that $35, about $14 goes to school construction, $3.50 to college scholarships and $17.50 to reduce class sizes and to fund the More at Four program.

In its first year, the lottery was able to spend that $35 or 35 percent of the pie on education. But in recent years, it's been closer to 30 percent - much to the chagrin of lottery critics.

The lottery commission says it's a difficult balance, but their goal is big prizes to attract more lottery players, which ultimately generates more money.

"Percentages don't buy any scholarships. Percentages don't build building. Dollars build buildings and dollars pay for scholarships and if you get hung up on percentages, you could have a big percent of everything but at the end of the day you don't have any money, but you have a nice percentage," said Sheehan.

That percentage gave Wake schools $15 million in school construction last fiscal year.

"That doesn't even build an elementary school," offered Jennifer Lanane with the Wake North Carolina Association of Educators.

Lanane says she'd like to see some serious discussion of how to reallocate lottery dollars. According to lottery officials, that's an idea that's been kicked around for years.

"It's my experience it will be a topic of discussion for some time," said Shaheen. "Whether you like it or don't like it, please know we're trying to operate it with the highest degree of security and highest degree of integrity."

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