In North Carolina, we advertise our least-effective method of funding for our state’s K-12 education, and we bury the best and most effective way. We already spend $20 million annually for lottery advertising, and senators want to spend $10 million more. We spend zero for charter schools. Advertising how to start charter schools in North Carolina offers a greater return on our taxpayer money than lottery advertising.
State Sen. Harry Brown, a proponent of the lottery increase, was one of two Republican senators missing Aug. 30, 2005, when a strategically called floor vote resulted in the lottery’s creation. He leads supporters who say the ads will generate a net of $31.5 million more for education from the total new gross of some $155 million.
Let’s look at that $31.5 million. Public charter schools, according to research by a University of Arkansas study released in April 2014, operate on $8,277 per year, per student compared with their district school cousins that spend $9,999, or $1,722 more. An average charter has about 450 students so it saves us $775,000 per year. Therefore, about 40 charters would save us $31.5 million. And not one year – but every year!
So, if the choice is to ask lottery players for $155 million each year so we can squeeze out $31.5 million for education or to just create 40 new charters that will generate and sustain that revenue savings indefinitely, which idea would you support?
I am not a lottery proponent and was one of the plaintiffs in the 2006 lawsuit against the N.C. Lottery Commission, arguing that the lottery is a tax and that our same day Senate vote was unlawful. However, the lottery is here, and they don’t go away. So do we spend $10 million more (bringing the total to $30 million) on a barrage of ads asking more people to play more games?
Better idea. Take $1 million of the lottery ad money and tell families and businesses about how to start a charter school. One primary reason we have dwindling charter applications (71 in 2014 and 40 this year) is that residents are unaware that it is indeed they and partnering neighbors or colleagues who apply to start the schools of choice. The State Board of Education is actually directed by statute to “distribute information announcing the availability of the charter school process.”
Strangely, I have never met a person who got that message from the state. On the other hand, all of us have, unfortunately, been exposed to a screaming Ric Flair in a white jumpsuit.
Eddie Goodall is executive director of the NC Public Charter Schools Association.