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A lottery windfall for education

How should state spend $60 million?

Gaston Gazette

Remember that $1.6 billion Powerball jackpot earlier this year? You know, the one you didn’t win — and neither did we for that matter.

Sigh.

But so many folks out there bought tickets because, well, just because. So in the end we all did win something after all. It added up to better than $60 million in additional lottery profits for this fiscal year. A windfall.

Gov. Pat McCrory has some ideas about that money, and they’re pretty good ones. McCrory wants the General Assembly to approve changes in the lottery’s distribution formula to include targeted scholarship assistance for some disabled students, so they can attend private schools or receive therapy.

McCrory also wants to spend some of the extra profits on K-12 instructional supplies, a digital learning plan and technology that will help raise graduation rates in the University of North Carolina system.

All are worthy projects.

But some legislative leaders are balking at McCrory’s initiatives, saying they want to move back to the lottery’s original formula. Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican and an education budget writer, says that, “Every year at this point I go back and look at the original lottery legislation and make sure we’re spending lottery education money on purposes that the law describes.”

That’s laudable, too. But it should also be noted that education has changed in the 11 years since the lottery law was passed. For one thing, much more of it is digital, and far less is textbook-based.

The N.C. Association of County Commissioners, for one, would be pleased to go back to the original formula, which set aside 40 percent of lottery profits for school construction. That would more than double the $100 million they got this year and would be a boon in most counties like our own. Gaston County is looking for ways to keep up with repairs or renovations to aging school buildings that are in decline.

But in this year’s requests for lottery proceeds, we haven’t heard anything that would abuse the spirit of the lottery law. The money is supposed to help support education, and that’s mostly what’s happened in the past decade, save for the aberration during the Great Recession when lawmakers approved using lottery funds to cover a Medicaid shortfall. That’s one move that shouldn’t be repeated.

What’s important, we think, is making sure we’re getting the best bang for our lottery bucks. That means a careful look at our educational needs and then using lottery profits where they will do the most good.

Let’s never lose sight of another original intent: Lottery money is supposed to supplement state education funding, not replace it. That’s the real spirit of the law.

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