Raleigh, N.C. — School districts would be able to use lottery funds to buy technology devices and wire schools under a bill that cleared the House Education Committee Tuesday.
Under current law, school systems receive a portion of proceeds from the lottery that are set aside for just school construction. The bill would allow schools to shift that funding to "digital learning needs such as school connectivity, digital textbooks and instructional resources, or digital devices."
Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, called the measure "a flexibility bill" designed to give local school systems more control over their budget.
"It's not new money," Horn said. "It's just allowing LEAs to use the money in a more flexible manner."
Republican Gov. Pat McCrory mentioned the idea behind the bill in his State of the State speech, and giving local school systems more flexibility has been a key education talking point of his administration.
However, the idea met with some skepticism from committee members.
"I don't know of any school LEA that doesn't have capital funding problems, and now we're going to allow them to dip into a source a those funds for digital learning," said Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow. "I've just got some problems with that mentality."
Cleveland said he empathized with the idea of giving schools more flexibility, but he said the bill would open the door to other needs dipping into lottery proceeds.
"I think we should actually start funding these things and not look at easy revenue sources," Cleveland said.
Last year, schools across the state got roughly $100 million for school construction from the lottery. That's about $80 million less than the 40 percent of lottery proceeds set aside for school construction under the lottery act.
"We need to make sure as rapidly as possible we identify where this other 18 percent is going," said Rep. Jimmy Dixon, R-Duplin.
Last year's budget shifted that money to pay for more teachers to make up for a lack of state tax dollars. Lawmakers, including Dixon, voted for that plan several times, including a vote that overrode a gubernatorial veto.
Rebecca Troutman, a lobbyist for the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners, said her group had proposed this kind of flexibility in years past. However, she said, the commissioners group didn't have that proposal on their agenda this year because of last session's shift in funds.
Commissioners were worried that some school districts had pledged the lottery revenue to back bonds. Allowing for that funding to be shifted away from construction, she said, could cause problems for those districts.
The technology bill passed on a mixed voice vote and now heads to the House floor.