Editorial:N.C. Legislative GOP leaders prove their own fears of lottery funds abuse

Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017 -- Instead of providing money to advance pre-kindergarten education, boost scholarships for college students, enhance support for classroom teachers and add key dollars for local school construction - N.C. lottery proceeds now merely replace money for ongoing public education needs and bankroll tax cuts for big business and the well-off.

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CBC Editorial: Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017; Editorial # 8252
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

Amid the contentious debate leading to the enactment of the North Carolina Education Lottery, were ominous warnings from opponents, mostly Republicans.

Instead of providing money to advance pre-kindergarten education, boost scholarships for college students, enhance support for classroom teachers and add key dollars for local school construction – lottery proceeds would merely replace money for ongoing public education needs.

State Sen. Phil Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, led lottery opponents as minority leader in 2005. He derided the lottery as “a diversion from other educational problems that Democratic leaders have failed to address,” in the far-right Carolina Journal in August 2005. He also told the Journal he doubted the money would end up where advocates said it would go. ‘The money for education is not going to increase.”

Twelve years ago Berger, with his fellow Republicans, did all they could to stop the lottery from becoming law.

Now they are addicted to its cash. Worse, they are the ones fulfilling their own dire prediction – using the cash to pay for basic education needs. Today much of the money goes to “non-instructional support staff” that provide for on-going school operations while Berger, House Speaker Tim Moore and others shower their political patrons, particularly the businesses that control the N.C. Chamber of Commerce, with tax breaks and credits.

In the North Carolina Education Lottery’s first full year a decade ago, the profits were distributed to support schools and students around the state: 40 percent for construction; 26 percent for pre-kindergarten education, 24 percent for additional classroom teachers to cut class size and 10 percent for college scholarships

Ten years later, no money was spent for more teachers to cut class size; school construction support has shrunk to 17 percent; pre-k is down to 13 percent; scholarships at 5 percent while non-instructional support – basic school operations -- gets 63 percent of the lottery’s funding.

This is not about being for or against the lottery. It is about integrity.

It turns out that those who warned the loudest about diversion of lottery dollars, and were most steadfast in their demands, now lead the charge in breaking the faith.

North Carolina’s public schools face major challenges and frankly much if it is the legislature’s own-doing, such as the unfunded mandate to reduce the size of classrooms in lower grades.

It is disingenuous for Berger and other legislative leaders to suggest that money isn’t available to make sure music, art, physical education and international language instruction continue and these teachers keep their jobs. It has been irresponsible for legislators to cut taxes, reduce programs and syphon lottery dollars to pay for unnecessary tax cuts granted to those who need them the least.

The N.C. Chamber of Commerce, which represents the businesses who need an educated work force and know the value of a top quality of life, should be in the forefront of demanding the General Assembly keep faith with the lottery’s founding intentions, provide necessary funding for a quality education in the state’s public schools and avoid further unnecessary tax cuts that prevent the state from meeting citizens’ most basic needs.

When the General Assembly goes into session in January, it should be a top priority to assure local schools there will be adequate funding to meet the class-size mandate without any reduction to education quality or loss of classroom teaching positions.

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