“Education” Lottery

Among the recent controversies with our now not-running-for-reelection governor, Bev Perdue, was  is her advocacy for a 3/4 cent sales tax increase to help plug state education budgets.  I’d prefer a less regressive tax, but North Carolina has slashed education spending under the Republican legislature in a fairly appalling way.  Simply spending more money on education is not necessarily the answer, but I’d argue that hiring more teachers and giving them the salaries and raises they deserve, is definitely a good thing.

Anyway, the issue that totally haunts and distorts the education funding debate in NC is the damnable “North Carolina Education Lottery.”  When this lottery was passed, it was quite controversial.  Conservatives opposed it because they are uptight moralists and many progressives opposed it because, heck, it’s just bad public policy (a tax on the statistically illiterate, who are least able to afford it).  As for me, given that all the surrounding states have a lottery, adding NC to the process seemed like not a horrible policy, but I’d rather none of us have a lottery.  Anyway, to help sell it, supporters decided that the revenues would be earmarked for education spending and we’d call it the “education lottery.”  Presumably, that was enough to get just enough support to pass it (then Lt. Governor Perdue cast the tie-breaking vote).

Anyway, the horrible unintended consequence of this is that many North Carolinians seem to think that the “Education Lottery” should have solved all of school funding problems.  So not true.  They wonder, why should we raise taxes even a tiny bit, when we’ve already got the lottery to pay for education.  What they don’t realize is that the scale of state spending on education absolutely dwarfs.  If I got the numbers right after a fair amount of googling last night, in the most recent fiscal year, the lottery contributed $400 million to education funding.  Sounds good, until you realize that NC spent $20 billion on education.  In short, for you non-math majors, that’s a whopping 2% of state spending on education.

Thus, it seems like the lottery supporters have done some real long-term harm to education in NC by actually convincing many voters that we don’t need to do anymore to fund education when, in fact, we desperately need to.  I swear, if only we had the “North Carolina Lottery” things on this score would actually be much better.

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

2 Responses to “Education” Lottery

  1. itchy says:

    Having grown up in Maryland, where lottery advertising is pervasive, I hated the idea and still do. None of this is a surprise.

    Before the lottery was approved, studies already showed that this is exactly what happens with an “education” lottery — or a lottery earmarked for anything specific. The government simply decreases what it had been spending in that area, sometimes more than the amount the lottery contributes.

  2. Steve Greene says:

    Yep. Indeed, the fact that earmarking money for education would not do a wit to actually improve overall education funding was utterly predictable. I think what was not quite so expected, was how it would turn the public (so wrongly) against non-lottery forms of funding (the other 98%) for education.

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