Does lottery add money to education?

A group responsible for helping to oversee the N.C. lottery renewed a debate Friday about how much the games benefit education.

Members of the state Lottery Oversight Committee expressed concern that some lottery money has only replaced education funding from other sources, rather than supplemented existing funding. The committee includes education and finance experts and was appointed by legislative leaders and Gov. Mike Easley.

“It appears that there is a substantial degree of supplanting and not 100 percent supplementing,” said Myron Coulter, co-chairman of the committee and a former chancellor of Western Carolina University.

The Easley administration says that is not the case.

“We've heard this argument before – it's looking at one piece of the education puzzle, but not the whole puzzle,” Easley budget adviser Dan Gerlach wrote in an e-mail.

The handling of lottery revenue has been in dispute since before lawmakers approved the games in 2005. Opponents of the lottery pointed to studies from other states showing that their lotteries failed to increase overall education spending.

In 2006, State Auditor Les Merritt suggested there were insufficient safeguards to prevent the same thing from happening in North Carolina. Easley and Merritt agreed that their offices would monitor spending levels for any drop-off in funding.

Meeting for only the second time Friday, the Lottery Oversight Committee took a different view. They pointed to two of the four programs that the lottery is supposed to help fund: the More at Four program for pre-kindergartners and additional teachers to reduce elementary-school class sizes.

In both cases, they said they suspected the lottery was adding nothing new.

“If we assume that the General Assembly would have found the money for (additional teachers),” said committee member Eddie Davis, former president of the N.C. Association of Educators, “some would say that the lottery funds are supplanting what would have been provided by the General Assembly.”

Committee members also noted that the legislature allocated no money from its general funds for More at Four two years ago, soon after the lottery was created.

Easley has said that he always intended to pay for More at Four – which he started in 2001 – with lottery funds.

The committee plans to study the use of lottery revenue further and make recommendations to lawmakers.

Merritt's office released a statement Friday saying he is “pleased to see that the committee is asking the right questions and seeking the answers that the taxpayers deserve.”