N.C.’s Education Lottery falls way short of its promise

Staff Editorial
Posted 8/18/21

Is it the time to call the N.C. “Education” Lottery what it is? Because it’s certainly not about education.

To be fair, it was never really about education to begin with. While the long …

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N.C.’s Education Lottery falls way short of its promise

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Is it the time to call the N.C. “Education” Lottery what it is? Because it’s certainly not about education.

To be fair, it was never really about education to begin with. While the long title of the bill included some language about “Further the Goal of Providing Enhanced Educational Opportunities” and making sure “All Students in the Public Schools Can Achieve Their Full Potential,” one look at the financial plan from the beginning shows it wasn’t.

From a story we wrote in 2019:

“The revenues were to be allocated, ‘to the extent practicable,’ the bill stated, in the following manner: at least 50 percent to the public in the form of prizes; at least 35 percent to educational purposes; no more than 8 percent for expenses, including no more than 1 percent for advertising; and no more than 7 percent for compensation to retailers. The allocation language was changed in 2007 to state the percentages were ‘guidelines’ to which the lottery commission ‘shall adhere...to the extent practicable.’”

Earlier this month, the N.C. “Education” Lottery showed once again how far it has fallen from its original “purpose.” The lottery reported a record of $3.8 billion in sales. Earnings for education, a press release stated, amounted to just $936 million, while more than $2.4 billion went to lottery winners. Translation — approximately 63% to winners, around 24.6% to education.

A long way from those original standards, standards loosened by the 2007 language change to “guidelines.” And this isn’t new. From that 2019 story:

“In the first full year of the lottery’s existence, that guideline was stuck to — 51% of ticket sales ($451.7 million) went to prize money and 35% went to education funding ($315.3 million). But as the years have progressed, the percentages have shifted greatly. In fiscal year 2018, 63.2% of ticket sales went to prizes and 25.9% went to education.”

How are we going to call this an “Education” lottery if the majority of the funds go to prizes, if the advertisements we see on TV are all about winning a jackpot or funding your kid’s college or buying a fun toy, and funds allocated to schools shrink?

Yes, money does go to education, and that is a good thing. Our public schools and their teachers, administrators, professional staff and students all need more support, and that support starts with money investments in their school infrastructure — buildings, people, curricula and other resources. But it may not even really be helping. From a 2019 article from Education NC:

“When the lottery legislation was first written, it stated, ‘The net revenues generated by the lottery shall not supplant revenues already expended or projected to be expended for those public purposes, and lottery net revenues shall supplement rather than be used as substitute funds for the total amount of money allocated for those public purposes.’ However, this sentence was removed right before voting, opening the door for legislators to use lottery revenues as a replacement for state funding.”

That same year, Chatham County Schools Chief Financial Officer Tony Messer told us that while lottery funds do aid the schools and Chatham County in paying off debt on school construction, it “hasn’t really impacted our financial operations,” and has supplanted money previously supplied from the state.

It’s time to call this the North Carolina Prize Lottery. At least then it would be more reflective of what the funds mostly go toward.

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