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Editorial: Taking a chance on lottery in Rowan

The North Carolina Education Lottery started in 2006 with great fanfare about how it would help the state’s schools catch up with building needs. Indeed, lottery proceeds help fund education, but those funds long ago stopped being the kind of “new money” that might transform the state’s public schools.

And though last year was the lottery’s most prosperous on record, the state has yet to return the education funding to pre-recession levels.

In an April resolution, Rowan County commissioners asked state officials to restore local lottery funding to the previous level. During the 2015-16 fiscal year, Rowan County received about $1.37 million from the state lottery, compared to $2.84 million in earlier years, the resolution said. Commissioners have largely used that to pay off school construction bonds.

Rowan’s $6.7 million last year

What does Rowan get? Last year, some $6,779,727 in lottery funds went toward education in the county, according to the N.C. Education Lottery. The funds were spread out in this way:

Non-instructional support: $4,026,759. This pays costs of support staff such as office assistants, custodians and substitute teachers.

School construction: $1,432,308

Prekindergarten: $812,783. That provided pre-K instruction for 170 children around 4 years old — $4,781 each.

College scholarships: $387,920. The lottery funds need-based scholarships to help students cover the costs of attending a state university or community college. Last year, 352 students in Rowan received scholarships.

Financial aid: $119,957. This is more help for college students, a need-based grant program for students in the UNC system. Last year, 587 Rowan students received grants.

From 2006 to 2016, Rowan received a total of $58,416,595 in lottery funds.

Over the decade

Retailers like the lottery; it paid them more than $1 billion in commissions from 2006 to 2016. No. 4 in sales was a Clemmons convenience store, Carlton’s Tanglewood, with sales of more than $14 million and commissions of $981,105.

No. 1 on the list was Rose Mart in Wilson, with more than $21.6 million in sales and $1.5 million in commission for the decade.

Statewide over that period, the lottery raked in $15.8 billion and paid out $4.6 billion for education. The rest goes for prizes, retailer commissions and gaming system services.

In effect, the lottery is a voluntary tax that people seem to pay with pleasure. But it’s yet another way North Carolina has shifted its tax burden to people who sometimes can least afford to pay. Meanwhile, the North Carolina Education Lottery is not living up to lawmakers’ promises of “bonus” money to help education. It’s business as usual. That is exactly what lottery opponents feared would happen.

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