Gambling with education

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 9, 2005

Education lottery. It seems like an oxymoron when you really think about it, but considering the recent passage of House Bill 1023, many of our state legislators don’t seem to agree.

Initially, the concept of creating additional revenue to supplement education without raising taxes may seem like an answer to a grievous dilemma, but examine the research carefully and you will see that lotteries have a completely opposite effect.

In an article entitled, &uot;A Lottery Education-Dispelling the Education Lottery Myth,&uot; author and Director of Research for the North Carolina Family Policy Council Stephen Daniels provides substantial findings and statistics supporting the argument that state-sponsored gambling is not only a seriously flawed proposal that falls dangerously short of its promises, but a cleverly disguised ploy by the gambling industry to pull the carpet of economic independence out from underneath the feet of individuals of limited income for selfish corporate profit.

According to the article, a Maryland study conducted by the Department of Planning found that &uot;zip codes with the highest lottery sales were home to the largest minority population, highest poverty rate, lowest educational attainment and lowest median household income,&uot; not to mention &uot;pathological gamblers&uot; often cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars in crime, lost wages/jobs and bankruptcies, not including the &uot;unwritten costs of divorce, child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, suicide and murder that result when people get addicted to gambling.&uot;

Lottery advocates, however fail to mention that when they’re sounding off about the large sums of potentially useful money crossing the border daily to benefit neighboring states.

Hypothetically, even if North Carolinians drove to surrounding states and spent the estimated $300 million they are said to be spending there on lottery tickets, revenues generated from the sales would be less than one percent of the state’s education budget.

Well, let’s assume for a second that North Carolina had its own lottery and generated $1.2 billion. Once you subtract the 50% for prizes and the 16 percent for administrative costs (advertising etc.), the states only keep 34%.

But, 34% of $1.2 billion is $400 million, still a lot of money, right? Not quite. Under House Bill 1023, half of that (or $200 million) would be spent for school construction, which would then have to be divided among the state’s 100 counties and to 115 school systems.

To make things more complicated, distribution would be based on what is known as an &uot;average daily membership,&uot; which is the average number of students in the county. Very simply, the money would be given out in accordance with population. The higher the number of students in a county, the more money it would receive.

According to this formula, Bertie County would net approximately $500,000, Hertford County $530,000 and Northampton County $480,000, hardly the billion dollar &uot;jackpot&uot; effect lottery proponents claim it will have on schools in economically depressed areas.

Not to mention a really poor arguing point for ushering in something that would account for a loss of $31-36 million in state and local taxes from the 400,000 people estimated to become gambling addicts, and that’s not even taking into consideration the negative impact on consumer sales.

One would think any legislator aware of our current economic situation and suffering tax base wouldn’t be bogus enough to suggest such a venture, but perhaps they need to be schooled in the facts.

Contrary to what many legislators would have you believe, research shows that states sponsoring lotteries don’t spend more on education than states that don’t, but that states who refrain from sponsoring lotteries &uot;actually INCREASE education spending at a higher rate&uot; than their counterparts, a good thing for commissioners to remember, according to former Chairman of the NC State Board of Education Phil Kirk.

In the article Kirk was quoted saying, &uot;I am strongly opposed to the lottery, not only for the philosophical reasons. We would never pass another local school bond and it would erode county commissioner support of extra money to the schools,&uot; and I’m inclined to believe he has a point especially after reading comments from Duke professors Charles Clotfelter and Philip Cook in their report to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission.

The men stated, &uot;When expenditures on the earmarked purpose far exceed the revenues available from the lottery, as is the case with the general education budget, there is no practical way of preventing a legislature from allocating general revenues away from earmarked issues, thus blunting the purpose of the earmarking.&uot;

So, if there are no guarantees that the money earmarked for education will stay that way and we are investing in a &uot;revenue source that is at the mercy of attitudes within the market,&uot; why should we jeopardize the stability of student programs partially, though inevitably dependent on such funding?

When a state feels the need to &uot;entice its citizens to keep gambling&uot; to generate income for the state, we have a serious problem, especially when the relationship between improving education funding and the lottery &uot;has not been supported by analysis of the data.&uot;

I think Daniels nailed it when he said, &uot;these messages are in stark contrast to the messages of responsibility, good judgment and self-discipline taught to students in public schools through character education.&uot;

Perhaps we should consider buying stock something that would yield positive gain for our students, families and society. I think if legislators and citizens alike reviewed the &uot;data&uot; they would agree that funding such instability is gambling with the future.

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