Brittney Lofthouse – Staff Writer
When the North Carolina Education Lottery was pitched to residents, it was under the promise that the education lottery would give 40 percent of that money back to local school districts. For years, districts such as Macon County have only received 17 percent of lottery sales. Members of the legislature worked to increase that percentage, and today Macon County sees around 20 percent of lottery funds, about half of what was originally promised.
“We are very fortunate that we have several new and relatively new school facilities here in Macon County,” said Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin. “Like many Macon County citizens, I am certainly grateful for these facilities. I also understand that these facilities come with a cost and support lottery funding going toward the debt accrued as a result of the newer facilities. I am troubled that lottery funds have arguably been used to supplant traditional state funding for education. I don’t think that was the original intent of the Education Lottery. Yes, I would like to see the restoration of the original lottery funding formula for education.”
In 2016-17, the lottery produced $98 million for all 115 school districts. According to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction website: “Even if the NC Education lottery gave 100 percent of its revenue to schools, that would only cover about 19 percent of the state’s total budget for K-12 public schools.”
The North Carolina State Lottery Act was signed into law on Aug. 31, 2005, establishing the N.C. Education Lottery. Just seven months later, on March 30, with executive director Tom Shaheen at the helm, the first lottery scratch-off tickets went on sale.
The net proceeds of the North Carolina Education Lottery go to education expenses, including reduced class sizes in early grades, academic prekindergarten programs, school construction, and scholarships for needy college and university students.
Lottery funds allocated to counties are permitted to be used for school construction projects. In Macon County, the money allowed to county leaders is used to pay off debt that has accumulated in constructing new schools such as Iotla Valley, or improvements to Union Academy and Highlands School, both completed in the last five years.
This year, Macon County received $297,259.24 in lottery funds from the state. In 2017, Macon County received $297,695.03; $290,048.50 in 2016; $284,945.21 in 2015; and $311,050.65 in 2014. While Macon County uses lottery funds to pay off school construction, it’s just a fraction of the annual amount needed to address school debt. This year, Macon County budgeted $878,853 to pay off school debt, meaning the county spent $581,594 above the state’s allocation to address school needs.