By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — The North Carolina Lottery brochure features all the right “educational” images: smiling teacher in hallway, handsome college student with laptop, silhouetted engineers admiring a school construction project, even a handful of colorful crayons. Unfortunately, despite catchy slogans and slick promotions, a new study shows the lottery has not helped fund Tar Heel schools.
“A glossy presentation can’t gloss over the truth. What has happened in most every state that has introduced a lottery has happened in North Carolina, just as the CAL and many others predicted,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “Lottery proceeds that were supposed to be extra money for education have now replaced what schools once received from the state’s general fund. And the overall result is less money to teach more children, not to mention more people drawn into gambling.”
Since the lottery’s creation in 2005, shifting funds and reallocations have made for an interesting shell game, but the study, released last month by the North Carolina Justice Center’s Education and Law Project, cuts to the chase: “North Carolina spent less on K-12 education in the 2010-11 school year than it did in the last school year before the lottery came into existence, even without accounting for inflation or increases in the student population.”
Calling the lottery “a failed experiment,” the report shows how North Carolina’s legislative leaders have used it to cover up cuts to education. It also explains how the share of the lottery’s proceeds that go to education has declined even as other funding to schools has also been reduced. Although the lottery admittedly bumped up education spending for about two years, that increase is now long gone and now the lottery is not even required to turn over an exact percentage of profits to schools. According to the report, the legislation authorizing the lottery called for at least 35 percent of gross proceeds to benefit schoolchildren with the rest used for prizes, administration, gaming vendors and retailer commissions. But in 2007, lawmakers amended that rule allowing lottery officials to meet the 35 percent requirement “to the extent practicable.”
Not only has the loophole led to a drop from 35 to 29 percent, but the way those funds are divided up has also changed. At first, half went to class-size reduction in early childhood, 40 percent to school construction and 10 percent to scholarships. But to compensate for many lost teacher positions, this year’s state budget allocated 66.8 percent to class-size reduction and only 23.5 percent for construction. University scholarships got 9.7 percent.
The Justice Center report goes on to say that even with more money than ever going to lottery prizes, ticket sales are starting to stagnate and are expected to decline over the coming year, which will mean even less education funding.
“This is the worse aspect of a state-run lottery. Once North Carolina hitched its wagon to this kind of corrupt enterprise — luring people into thinking that they can buy a ticket and get rich quick — it must continue aggressively advertising this lie to draw in more players, truly preying on its own citizens to try to make the lottery yield large dividends,” Dr. Creech said.
“The original justification that the lottery would provide a beneficial supplement to education funding that outweighs these evils is no longer valid since the state now spends less on education funding than it did before the lottery was enacted,” the Justice Center report concludes. “The lottery is now a tax on the poor that brings gambling into the state’s communities without adding anything to the state’s education system.”
Interestingly enough, the report on the unkept promises of North Carolina’s lottery came out just prior to Time magazine’s listing of lottery tickets among its “5 Things You Should Never Buy Again.”
“According to Powerball, a player’s odds of winning the big one are 1 in 195,249,054. The odds of dying from a meteorite striking the earth are 1 in 700,000,” the magazine reports.
Baptist Press columnist Kelly Boggs pointed out that Time is a bit less than timely with this sound advice.
“Christian leaders and fiscal conservatives for years have pointed out the flaws of state-sponsored lotteries,” Boggs wrote, citing specifically the scheme’s disproportional effects on the poor. He said those who try to sidestep the issue by insisting that gambling is voluntary and “no one has to play,” are making a disingenuous argument.
“…In order for the lottery to be ‘successful,’ people must play. As a result, the government advertises, markets and entices its citizens to participate,” he wrote. “In fact, the marketing directors of state-run lotteries have done such a good job of selling their ‘product’ to low and middle income Americans that a majority believe they have a better chance of accumulating $500,000 by winning the lottery or sweepstakes than by saving and investing, according to a survey by the Consumer Federation of America and Primerica.”
Dr. Creech pointed out the larger social implications of the state’s selling the lottery lie.
“How can we expect people to have a strong work ethic, to learn to save and invest when we’re spending millions to send them the exact opposite message?” he asked. “And then to call this an education lottery is even more despicable. We’re educating our citizens, alright, teaching them to forget about hard work and instead bank their future on something less likely than a meteorite falling on their heads.”
For more on the North Carolina Justice Center report, click here
To read Kelly Boggs’ column on Time magazine’s “revelation” about lottery tickets, click here