ELIZABETHTOWN — More than $11 million in lottery tickets were bought in Bladen County last year, begging an evaluation of how the investment is benefiting education in the Mother County.
In 2017, the 40 sites in Bladen County that sell N.C. Education Lottery tickets saw $11,833,711 pass through their hands, or an average of $990,309 monthly. In return, the Mother County saw a mere $315,693 earmarked for construction for the year.
“It is important to realize that how much money each county receives is not based on factors like how many people play the lottery, the number of retailers, ticket sales, etc.,” said Kathleen Jacob, public affairs specialist with the N.C. Education Lottery. “Different state agencies oversee the administration of the funds to each county. Each agency uses a different formula to determine how much money goes to each county.”
The county saw a total of $2,106,162 last year, with the remaining going to pre-K ($557,092), scholarships ($77,212), financial aid ($32,021) and NIP ($1,124,144).
For many insiders, however, the funding represents disappointment and broken promises on the part of lawmakers. When the N.C. Education Lottery was passed by legislators in 2005, it was done by promising the public — as well as education leaders — the money would not supplant existing education funding. Pie-in-the-sky promises included increased construction funding, class size reduction, new college scholarships and expanded pre-K programs.
Despite widespread belief, all of the money was never intended to go to schools. As originally approved, lottery revenue would be broken down as follows: 50 percent for prizes, 35 percent for education, and 15 percent for lottery administration. With the lottery bringing in nearly $5 billion in 2017, that would mean approximately $1.75 billion for education, or an average of $17.5 million per North Carolina county, money that was promised to be on top of what districts were already receiving. So what happened?
“Keep in mind, that it is the lottery’s job to raise money for education,” said Jacob. “… lawmakers decide every year how that money is spent.”
Legislators have, indeed, decided. According to the biennial N.C. Superintendent of Public Schools report, in the three years leading up to the lottery, the state’s per-pupil base allocation rose from $4,543 to $4,884. The numbers represent a 7.5 percent rise over two years, or 3.75 percent each year, roughly the same as inflation. On the other hand, since the first year the lottery was instituted — 2007 — funding has risen from $5,110 to $5,410, or 1.5 percent in 10 years. In other words, if the trend remains true, it will take 20 years for the funding to increase the same amount it increased in one year before the lottery, and the 0.17 percent increase each year falls woefully short of the 2.11 percent annual rise in costs due to inflation.
Bladen County has felt the pinch. In 2007, the district received $644,370 for construction, a figure that was generally repeated each year through 2010. In 2011, however, when education funding was cut statewide to mitigate a Medicaid shortfall, the district’s construction funding plummeted to $359,506. It has fallen every year since, with $315,698 being seen in 2017.
That same year — 2011 — represented a shift in how funding was designated. Up until that time, lottery proceeds were broken down with 50 percent going to class size reduction and pre-K programs, 40 percent for construction, and 10 percent to needy students. For the 2011-2012 year, 67 percent of lottery money went to class size reduction, 23 percent for construction, and 10 percent for scholarships, in the same year legislators reduced the percentage of overall lottery revenue that goes to education from 35 percent to 29 percent. Another cut in 2015 means the percentage now going to capital projects stands at 19 percent, and the overwhelming majority of lottery funding goes to pay permanent teaching positions once included in the state budget.
School districts like Bladen County are now between a rock and a hard place. The 1950s construction boon means outdated facilities are in need of renovation or replacement at the same time legislators are cutting funding. Add to the mix the 2011 decision by legislators to lift the cap on charter schools and the resulting decline in enrollment, and the system is seeing less money than it ever has.
The district, in fact, faces the lose-lose situation of either closing schools or asking county commissioners to request taxpayers make up the difference. Bladen County has overwhelmingly denied the latter, with voters nixing a quarter-cent sales tax five times.
A report done 10 years ago for the county revealed $60 million in updates were needed in the Bladen County Schools district overall.
Bladen County School officials were given the opportunity to comment for this story, but did not respond before press time.
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.