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The lottery shell game continues

In last week’s State of the State Address, Governor McCrory outlined a proposal to make some changes to the way school districts can spend lottery funds. Similar changes are found in House Bill 97. Under current legislation, lottery funds can be used for class size reduction, prekindergarten for at-risk students, college scholarships and capital funds (essentially money used to construct new schools). H.B. 97 would allow expanding the permitted use of lottery funds to include digital learning needs such as school connectivity and digital textbooks.

Education research demonstrates a clear link between increased student achievement and the programs that the lottery currently supports. There is also emerging research supporting the use of digital textbooks and demonstrating the fiscal and educational benefits of increased connectivity and use of technology to engage today’s students in the classroom as Gov. McCrory and the legislature have recognized.

But allowing more flexibility in the way lottery funds are spent is unlikely to have any positive impact on student achievement in North Carolina. It simply allows districts to pick and choose between which vital educational inputs they provide rather than giving districts what they need to provide a high-quality education. Because of legislation passed at the height of the Great Recession, school districts already have an incredible amount of flexibility on how they use state money that would otherwise be earmarked for specific purposes.

This continues a longstanding trend of the use of lottery money. In spite of ever-increasing lottery revenues, overall state funding for education has declined to the point where North Carolina spends less on education today than it did before the lottery was implemented because every dollar that the lottery provides is used to supplant funds that otherwise would have gone to education through the General Fund.

The best way to expand access to educational resources is to increase the overall pot of funding rather than by simply moving money around. For example, access to digital textbooks could be increased by reinstating the massive amount of funding that has been cut from state textbook funds in recent years. Since 2010, textbook funding has declined from about $116 million to $26 million, an 80% reduction.

Loosening up the strings attached to lottery funds, which account for just 4% of state education funding, won’t change the dire financial circumstances our schools find themselves in as they strive to modernize the state’s education system. The only way to do that is to make a commitment to providing the resources our underfunded schools and under-served students so desperately need.

8 Comments

  1. JeffS

    February 25, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    This is basically a backhanded cut of infrastructure.

    They allow schools to spend lottery money on digital text, then cut funding further so they are unable to buy anything but. Infrastructure spending suffers and the state is pushed closer to privatization, the primary goal of the christian right and many of their less orthodox brethren looking to turn a profit when it happens.

    Has the average GOP representative thought this far ahead? Of course not, but the people telling them how to vote certainly have.

  2. david esmay

    February 25, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    Well said Jeff, you hit the nail on the head. They are looking for every avenue possible to under cut public education.

  3. gregflynn

    February 25, 2013 at 9:33 pm

    This bill is more insidious than it appears. Before 2006, funding of the Public School Building Capital Fund came from a portion of corporate income tax. Lottery proceeds was intended to supplement, not supplant this revenue source. In 2006-07 $109 million came from corporate tax and $102 million ($211 million) from the lottery. For the past 3 years no corporate tax revenue has been transferred to the Fund. Lottery revenue transferred last was just $90 million. 78% of the 2011-12 allocation of $109 million went to local bond debt service, the rest, $24 million to badly needed repairs. School construction is woefully underfunded already. This bill is a sick joke.

  4. gregflynn

    February 25, 2013 at 9:54 pm

    Clarification:
    $211 million was the Capital Fund revenue 2006-07
    $90 million was the Capital Fund revenue 2011-12

    The last survey of NC school construction needs in 2011 projected over $8 billion in facility needs statewide over the following 5 years.

  5. Doug

    February 26, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    I am not sure I follow where the cuts related to lottery funds come along. Here are the per pupil expenditures I found with a quick Google search on the ncdpi web site:
    North Carolina
    2000-2001 $6,654
    2001-2002 $6,696
    2002-2003 $6,741
    2003-2004 $7,006
    2004-2005 $7,328
    2005-2006 $7,596
    2006-2007 $8,017
    2007-2008 $8,522
    2008-2009 $8,663
    2009-2010 $8,451
    2010-2011 $8,414

    It seems spending has pretty much gone up every year.

    Oh, and it is funny to see that most of the much maligned cuts to education blamed on Republicans actually happened before they took over the legislature in the 2010-2011 year. Amazing the Dems are not called out on that 2009 budget decrease of $212, but the $37 cut in 2011 is draconian and has set our state back to the 18th century.

  6. gregflynn

    February 26, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    Per pupil spending is the total of state, local and federal contributions and does not include capital spending, ie construction funding. The total spending per pupil has been shored up by federal stimulus money. State spending has declined:
    Year State | Local | Federal
    2008-2009 $5,616 | $2,075 | $831
    2009-2010 $5,655 | $2,123 | $885
    2010-2011 $5,232 | $1,931 | $1,298
    2011-2012 $5,162 | $1,898 | $1,355

  7. Doug

    February 27, 2013 at 9:25 am

    You have to include all spending, whether state federal or whatever. The point is the genral trend has been up…and the schools are far from truly hurting.

    Oh, and the whole country has been shored up by the supposed temporary “stimulus” that keeps on going and going. So at this point is is no longer considered shoring up, but I guess a permanent funding in our government’s view.

  8. david esmay

    February 27, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    Doug, your level of self deception when presented facts contrary to what you want to believe is truly remarkable. The argument is about the decline in state spending, as a matter of fact spending on education as a percentage of the general fund is lower now than it was in 1968.