Local News

Bill Passed in House Puts School Aid in Play

Posted July 11, 2007 6:47 p.m. EDT
Updated July 11, 2007 8:44 p.m. EDT


— The state House on Wednesday passed a bill to rearrange how state lottery money is divided up among school districts.

Dividing up school aid is always a sticky issue. If the bill that passed tonight becomes law, Wake County could come out a winner and get more money while other systems such as Durham County may end up with less.

The bill would not change how 65 percent of the lottery income is divided among all districts. At issue is who will get how much of the other 35 percent.

Wake County is one of the fastest-growing school districts in the state, but its advocates feel Wake and counties like it are being shortchanged.

“Out of the 115 school systems in the state, 58 of them aren't getting any part of the 35 percent, and that's unfair,” argues Rep. Bruce Goforth, D-Buncombe.

Currently, the 35 percent goes to counties with higher property tax rates, a policy that leaves Wake high and dry. In the proposed system, the money would be split in half, with 17.5 percent going to low-wealth school systems and 17.5 percent going to school systems with high enrollment.

Under the new formula in the bill, Wake County schools would get an additional $5.5 million a year on top of its current $8 million.

“Every little bit helps, and we're not going to turn it away,” said the Wake system’s spokesman, Michael Evans.

Wake voters last year approved a $970 million bond issue for schools. Over the next 15 years, the school system expects to add 200,000 more students and to need 70 new schools.

A bigger portion of the lottery money “could go to renovations. It could go to debt service. There's a lot of different ways the school system could use the money,” Evans said.

Durham's on the other side of the equation.

The new formula would cut $1.5 million out of its school construction budget.

“It's money we're counting on, money we've budgeted, and we'll be in hot water if the formula gets changed,” County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said.