NC is Winning! The sad state of education

May 27 • FEATURE SIDEBAR, NEWS & VIEWS, Op-EdNo Comments on NC is Winning! The sad state of education

Since I left Philly, I generally don’t get road rage much. But I flashed red the other day as I passed the water treatment plant on River Road, luxuriating in the aroma of purification. I heard Governor McCrory lay part of the blame for the sorry state of education in NC on Jon Stewart and tax incentives for the film industry. He even suggested the $400,000 film credit from “The Daily Show” might have gone to teacher’s salaries.

Before I could mash the off button I heard a commercial promoting the North Carolina Education Lottery. It sounded like a regular person talking about education in a state that treats its teachers like cattle and its students like sheep—which is very much like playing the lottery. What a surprise to live in a country that aspires to be the world’s beacon for knowledge yet frames no “Right to an Education” in its Constitution! I guess winning the lottery of being born in the right ZIP code to the right parents guarantees we have to work pretty hard to screw ourselves out of quality educational opportunities. Losing that lottery means we have to work not to get shot while waiting for the school bus.

The fine folks advertising how great the lottery was for them maintained they slept well, knowing that, even if they didn’t win, some poor student would have his pencil sharpened the next day because of their sacrifice.

P.T. Barnum slept pretty well, too. A sucker is born every minute.

I turned off the radio.

First off, what are the odds that “The Daily Show” tax incentive is responsible for NC ranking 46th in teacher salary? Maybe film incentives explain why our state voted to ban gay marriage. Maybe film incentives are why our state tried to legislate the sea level. They may even explain why North Carolina doesn’t have a professional baseball team!

The governor’s off-the-cuff comment got me thinking about education funding and the lottery issue. Does McCrory or anyone really believe that state lotteries are an ideal way to fund schools?

In 1964, coincidentally the same year the Civil Rights Act passed, New Hampshire instituted the first state lottery. North Carolina didn’t institute one until 2005. Currently 37 states have state-run lotteries, many earmarking part of the “vig” for education funding.   “Vig” is a gambling term for “profit.”

One of my mom’s friends was a bookie named Frankie. When I was a kid I asked mom why Frankie twitched all the time and had a dent in his head over his eyeball. Mom explained Frankie could count and run, or run with numbers, and never to ask Frankie about his twitch unless I wanted a bullet stuck over my eye, too.

I’m not sure I like 37 states infringing on Frankie’s territory. I don’t want government taking jobs away from honest entrepreneurs and giving them to state lackeys who lack real incentive. When’s the last time a state lottery official had a bullet lodged over his eye after a minor miscalculation?

Much like trickle-down economics, it’s farcical to believe that film incentives hurt education funding, and lotteries are a fine way to fund schools.  (I’m still disappointed that the lottery was enacted during Democrat Mike Easley’s administration with the tie-breaking vote being cast by then Lt. Governor Bev Perdue, and that as governor Ms. Perdue probably violated the lottery law to close a budget shortfall.)

In a 1999 National Gambling Impact Study Jeff Perlee, former NY State Lottery director stated, “The widespread belief that lottery dollars are used to increase funding for education is simply a myth. We found that over the years the lottery has been used repeatedly as a source for closing budget gaps rather than increasing aid to education.”

The statement still applies pretty well in North Carolina in 2014. Politicians get elected by being “business-friendly” rather than “citizen-focused.” They make baseless comments that link film incentives to the sorry state of education just to protect their business friends. They use the lottery, basically a regressive tax on the poor (how many rich parents are lining up to buy Powerball tickets to get their kid to college?), as one way to defend cutting taxes on the rich.

But what are the odds we’ll ever stop playing these shell games with the future?

 

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