The North Carolina lottery issue is of more than passing interest to the Moore County school system as it gears up for another study on its capital needs.
School system officials across the state are keeping a watchful eye on Raleigh as the state Senate takes up a lottery bill.
The House narrowly approved the bill by a 61-59 vote April 6. The bill is expected to be signed into law by Gov. Mike Easley if it makes it through the Senate. That means a N.C. state lottery could be in place by the end of the year.
The lottery has attracted the attention of school officials because a sizable portion of the proceeds would benefit the state's school districts by providing funds for school construction, scholarships and low-wealth schools.
Last year, the Moore County school system was preparing to ask for a $90 million bond referendum before Super-intendent Susan Purser shelved the plan. Local studies suggested that Moore County needed five new schools, including a new high school to relieve overcrowding at Pinecrest and Union Pines.
Purser said a state lottery could benefit schools across the state, if the funds are distributed equitably and where they're supposed to go.
"That's paramount, because what I'm looking at is funding for education," Purser said, adding that too many bond referendums can dull the public's enthusiasm for funding schools. "Here, what we're really looking at is funding for facilities. We can't just continue to lay on and lay on with the methods we're using right now, so we're looking at other ways to provide funding for schools. I would be a grateful recipient of the money from the lottery."
She said she's going to focus on what the funds could mean for Moore County.
"That's where I'm going to focus my attention," she said, pointing out that many of the county's elementary schools used to be K-12 schools. "They were built with a different purpose in mind. We have elementary schools with full-size gymnasiums and auditoriums.
"Across this country, facility needs are paramount because buildings are getting worn out. Very well-constructed buildings can wear out. Just think how many times a day a toilet gets flushed in a school. How many feet go down a hallway? Think about Union Pines High School every time the bell rings, the number of feet going down the hall. Facilities get too full, too, but it's not just about being over capacity."
The Moore County school system currently uses 67 portable classrooms.
"We have doublewides out beside our schools," Purser said. "They were designed to serve in a temporary capacity."
Based On Enrollment
Fifty percent of the money taken in by the lottery would go to prizes. Of the remaining 50 percent, 34 percent would be for the state's schools. Fifty percent of that would go toward the Public School Building Capital Fund for school construction, 25 percent would go to the State Educational Assistance Authority for scholarships, and 25 percent would be transferred to a fund that would be called the Education Enhance-ment Fund for low-wealth districts.
The funds would be distributed each year on June 30. It's not known exactly how the money in the Public School Building Capital Fund would be distributed, but it is likely that the amount given to each district would be based on average daily membership (ADM) or each district's student population.
Purser said an ADM format would have merit.
"I don't like the idea of writing competitive grants," she said.
Moore County would benefit in the form of capital funding and scholarship monies, but would probably not get any money intended for low-wealth districts.
"We're not low-wealth," Purser said. "Our county is the fifth wealthiest of the state, but 17 percent of the children in Moore County live in poverty, which is a higher rate than the state of North Carolina."
That means there are students in Moore County who could use "low-wealth" funding but won't get it because of the county's overall wealth.
"Right now, we don't get to take advantage of the low-wealth money," Purser said. "What we have in our county is haves and have-nots. We don't have a huge chunk in the middle."
Not a Cure-All
Purser said it's logical that 50 percent of the total amount of money would go to lottery winnings.
"That's why people play the lottery, to win the pot," she said. "There's also some overhead attached to having a lottery. Then there's the money that goes to education."
Purser stressed that school officials need to know that a lottery isn't a cure-all for school districts. The bill itself states that the funds intended for capital projects are "to increase the level of county spending for public school capital outlay purposes other than the retirement of indebtedness.
A county must continue to spend for public school capital outlay purposes the same amount of money it would have spent for those purposes if it had not received monies appropriated."
"It's not going to take care of everything," Purser said. "That's one of the concerns I have — that people will say, ‘OK, we've taken care of education.' It won't.
"This money is not going to take care of all the problems with education. If it's done right, it will help education, but it won't mean we'll never have bond issues."