Friday, March 05, 2021

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I had the opportunity recently to attend a lunch with the Roanoke Valley Chamber of Commerce, as well as representatives from the Northampton, Halifax, Roanoke Rapids and Weldon school systems and other business and community leaders, to learn more about how the North Carolina Education Lottery works.

Whether or not you agree with the lottery, and this article is not intended to endorse or condemn, merely inform, it is always best to learn as many facts as you can about something before making a judgment. What I learned about the lottery was very interesting. The representative who spoke to our group – Van Denton, Corporate Communications Director – was very effective in communicating what lottery funds do for Halifax County and in answering whatever question was thrown his way.

However, I very much appreciate the transparency of the North Carolina Education Lottery. You can find all of this information on www.nc-educationlottery.org by clicking on the Where the Money Goes tab. I found it amazing that since the inception of the lottery nine years ago in March 2006, more than $3.9 billion dollars have been generated in the State of North Carolina for education. What programs does the lottery fund, you ask? The current breakdown is as follows: 43.6% for classroom teacher salaries, 19.4% for teacher assistants, 17.1% for school construction, 12.9% for pre-kindergarten programs, 5.2% for need-based college scholarships and 1.8% for UNC need-based financial aid. Last fiscal year alone, lottery funds made up $522.4 million of the $11 billion to fund education from the state’s General Fund. Here are some other facts about the North Carolina Education Lottery. The headquarters is in Raleigh with five regional offices. There is a nine-person commission, with five appointed by the Governor, two by the House and two by the Senate, that oversees the lottery. The chairman is Keith Ballentine of Rocky Mount. The commission meets once per quarter.

The NC Education Lottery budget is broken down like this: 62.4% paid out in prizes, 26.2% profit to state, 7% in retailer commissions, and 4.4% in administrative, advertising, marketing and gaming system costs. Let’s take a look at the NC counties in the Lake Gaston region. Since the beginning of the lottery, Halifax County has received $19,929,580, with $6,874,586 being used to help pay the salaries of 131 teachers in grades K-3, $6,258,903 being used for school construction, $4,601,244 funding 997 4-year-olds to attend Pre-K, $1,376,606 used to fund 1,289 need-based college scholarships, and $704,423 to support 2,027 students attending state universities within the UNC system who qualify for need-based financial aid.

Northampton County has received $7,511,530, with $2,231,618 being used to help pay the salaries of 43 teachers in grades K-3, $1,995,125 being used for school construction, $2,478,278 funding 547 4-year-olds to attend Pre-K, $504,958 used to fund 447 need-based college scholarships, and $269,114 to support 808 students attending state universities within the UNC system who qualify for need-based financial aid.

Warren County has received $6,197,622, with $2,055,790 being used to help pay the salaries of 39 teachers in grades K-3, $1,841,430 being used for school construction, $1,666,023 funding 361 4-year-olds to attend Pre-K, $327,193 used to fund 323 need-based college scholarships, and $191,068 to support 576 students attending state universities within the UNC system who qualify for need-based financial aid.

In talking with the superintendents of these school systems, as well as some school board representatives and county commissioners, they were all very aware of how much of their funds came from the NC Education Lottery and were very appreciative of these funds, but they did make it clear that these funds are intended to be IN ADDITION TO regular state funds allocated for education, not to supplant those funds.

NC Education Lottery funds for teacher salaries and school construction come back to the county based on the number of students being served. The purpose of funding teacher salaries is to reduce class sizes. However, there was also a concern expressed by the educators present that the lottery funds are now being used just to keep teachers in the classroom. Pre-K, scholarship and financial aid monies are given to the counties based on need.

In addition to the information being so readily available about how these funds are allocated, I did also appreciate when Denton shared that the lottery ads we see in North Carolina are intentionally NOT about living the good life, a fact that I had not noticed before, but am cognizant of now. North Carolina is also currently pursuing the top certification with the World Lottery Association (an organization that I did not know existed) for promoting responsible gambling. In fact, $1 million per year of lottery funds are given to the Department of Health and Human Services for the Problem Gambling Program.

One last interesting fact to share, 44 states in the US have lotteries. Ironically, there is no lottery in Nevada. Go figure.

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