State needs lottery

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 14, 2005

After more than a decade of wrangling, North Carolina is closer than it has ever been to establishing a lottery to benefit education. Polls indicate that 75-80 percent of us favor it, so you’d think there wouldn’t be a problem.

The State House of Representatives, which has always posed the biggest impediment to the lottery, passed the lottery measure by the narrowest of margins, 61-59. The ball is now in the Senate’s chambers and would pass easily if that august body would just leave it alone.

That’s the question: Can the Senate leave it alone so that it can be submitted to the governor and put into law? Or will the Senate tinker with it, send the tinkered version back to the House, and watch a golden opportunity to get this lottery going combust in the righteous flames of paternalistic politicians?

The upholders of virtue and morality in the state legislature are determined to keep the lottery out of North Carolina because they are against sin (ain’t we all?). I find the Republican mind a fascinating maze of contradictions. They’re willing to cut social programs, cut taxes until the state coffers bleed, and support gutting Social Security because they think people should handle their own money, but when it comes to a lottery – something people participate in voluntarily or not at all — they know what’s best for us.

Most people want it because they think people really should be able to do with their money what they want. Some want to play, of course, but I think the majority of people like the idea of having more funds for education.

Our schools need more money – money for equipment, buildings, teachers, etc. Having spent a year in the classroom and working in and around educational settings for a big part of my life, has convinced me that our educators deserve to be paid like the professionals they are. Many people look at educators as &uot;only&uot; working 10 months out of the year, getting all sorts of great holidays, and still getting paid above the average salary for this area.

What they don’t look at is the incredible amount of time good teachers spend during their 10 months preparing for class, grading papers, managing kids…the list goes on and on and on. During the school year, teachers put in far more than 40 hours per week and they have one of the most difficult and thankless jobs you can imagine.

It’s not easy teaching over 100 children how to write a good essay or how to handle an algebraic formula. The teacher must coordinate what he or she knows with what the state and the school district expect to be taught and figure out a way to reach every child in the classroom. Lecturing, I discovered, only works with a small percentage of students. Most need one-on-one attention and hands-on activities before the teacher can get their attention sufficiently to teach the material.

Teachers may not get paid during their two-month vacation, but they take continuing education courses to stay on top of the latest information and techniques. They are also required to take professional development training during the year so they don’t become dinosaurs in the classroom.

But they also need a break because teaching takes a lot out of anybody. It’s stressful and exhausting even for the most dedicated and loving teacher. They can’t just go in a present a lesson plan; they must also get to know their students, handle conflicts, and keep young people focused on tasks. It’s like raising the child, in a sense, without the authority that a parent typically has.

We need the best people in the classroom and the only way we’re going to attract bright, energetic individuals to the teaching profession is to make education an attractive alternative to the many careers available to college graduates. The first step is, crudely, to pay them for the work they do.

For the best and brightest teaching prospects, there are places in the nation willing to treat them like the professionals they are. But that kind of treatment requires a commitment to pay them, which is often achieved by combining state pay with supplemental pay from local government and local corporations.

In this area, we rely on the state payroll almost exclusively, which makes it hard to attract the best new teachers and even harder to keep them.

But it’s not just about money. It is also a matter of the working conditions teachers must go into every day. They need supplies, they need equipment, they need good administrators who support them and encourage them. When they’re given nothing to give their students, when they’re forced to use outdated books, when they don’t have the computers and software they need, when the buildings are ramshackle, when the administrators are too busy to spend time assisting them…it’s hard to keep dedicated teachers because they burn our far too quickly.

If the state maintains the percentage of the state budget it now uses for education and supplements it with proceeds from the state lottery, we can improve the working conditions for teachers, satisfy their need to be treated with dignity and respect by our society, and then we can attract some of the best and brightest minds in the state to the noble profession of education.

Yeah, I’ll take a shot at a million-buck payoff every now and then, but the reason I want the lottery is because it will improve the quality of education for every child, regardless of which region of the state they come from and regardless of the economic conditions of their parents.

We need the lottery.