With school budget cuts, some wonder: Where's the lottery money? - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

With school budget cuts, some wonder: Where's the lottery money?

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By Tom Roussey - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - At Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the budget situation is so bad they may be about to close some schools.  And other counties in our area have faced cuts as well.

Some are wondering -- whatever happened to the lottery money?  Wasn't it supposed to prevent this kind of thing?

For one thing, the very thing some critics of the lottery feared when it started has come to pass -- the state is raiding the money for other things.

This year $35 million in lottery money will go to pay for a Medicaid shortfall in the state's budget.

And while many may consider Medicaid a worthy cause, the lottery money was supposed to be for education alone.

"There's a lot of folks that are upset and uneasy with that," said Sarah Ovaska of NC Policy Watch, who wrote an article about the lottery money.  "Before the lottery passed there were a lot of fears that this pot of revenue would eventually be used for something else."

Legislators have said their raiding of the lottery money is a one-time thing, but next year's state budget is looking even worse than this year's, leading some to wonder if they'll keep that promise.

"We are in uncharted territory with this economy, and the legislature faces really difficult decisions about how to continue to fund programs with {less revenue}," said North Carolina Education Lottery Acting Executive Director Alice Garland, who pointed out that where lottery money goes is a decision of the state legislature and not the lottery itself.

Garland says the lottery is still doing a lot of good for education in the state.  She says since it began in 2006 it has given over $1.5 billion to education.  That includes things like college scholarships and school construction.

But Ovaska points out that the percentage of each dollar the lottery makes that it going to schools has been dropping.

When the lottery began the goal was that for every dollar the lottery made, 35 cents would go to education.  But the most recent numbers show only 29 cents is now going to education.

But Garland says the lottery is putting more of its profits back into prize money.  The bigger prizes lead to more people playing.  Garland says even though the percentage going to education has gone down, since more people are playing the schools are still getting more money than they otherwise would.

The lottery brought in $419 million for schools in fiscal year 2010, up slightly from $410 million the year before.

But with so many teachers losing their jobs and CMS even talking about shutting some schools down, some wonder if the lottery is really helping schools all that much.

"When North Carolina decided to take on this lottery, they thought they'd be able to see some clear benefits, and people aren't sure if those benefits are actually there," Ovaska said.

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