Alternative Donation Case Study: The North Carolina Education Lottery

After my last post complaining about the Ice Bucket Fuck-up, I felt the need to follow up. I made the case that avoiding charitable donations altogether and instead finding more direct methods of donating was preferable. I didn’t go as far to offer options to that effect, and I feel that made my case less solvent. I know how chortling neckbeards will see any argument and play devil’s advocate regardless of the subject, so I’m correcting that lack of explanation, but within a new topic: alternative donations.

Ok, honestly, I just wanted to justify playing the NC Education Lottery, because that shit is fun and addictive.

I do the scratch-offs only, and occasionally at that. I don’t have a rule against the powerball, or the pick 3, or whatever; I just like the brevity of the scratch-offs. Instant gratification is my deal with gambling. And I don’t go out specifically to do it, just whenever I’m feeling frisky at a gas station or the grocery store. I know a lot of people will put their money into a chance to win it big when the odds are greatly against them, and getting the lottery back in North Carolina probably wasn’t healthy for low-income families. However, it’s not like that money is going to waste. Like most states in the southeast these days, we put that lottery money into the education system. Scholarships, infrastructure, etc., they get funded by gambling. So yeah, it’s a gimmick that gets people to donate toward something collectively that, without that gimmick, they probably wouldn’t have. I know, I’m eating my words already…

But before you cut my words up, dip them in steak sauce, and tell me it’s a plane coming in for a landing in my mouthhole, let me say this; the NC Education Lottery (NCEL) is probably one of the most consistent funding programs for education in North Carolina ever. People will ALWAYS buy lottery tickets and scratch-offs. As humans, we are constantly drawn to this idea of being lifted out of our current lives into affluence, even if we are already well-off. State merit scholarships and financial aid for college were started by enacting the lottery for education in South Carolina, my home state; I have friends and family who now have college degrees because we voted for a lottery several years before we graduated from high school. That sort of success story bolstered its use even more. It’s a system that has attracted people consistently to it while providing a tangible payoff.

It’s also an issue that keeps people interested in being informed. Tax-based income for state governments, where it’s taken out of our income before we even get our paychecks, is such a crucial and mundane thing that we only think about where’s going and where it could go during an election. The lottery income is directed, though; it HAS to go to education, regardless of how much there is. On top of that, education is something everyone has an opinion on. We all want our state’s children to succeed, but how that money should be utilized will change depending on who you ask. And, in response to that, it ends up going to many different programs. It gets people to stop talking about how much or how little to fund education, and instead talking about how it will help best. It’s tough to find something else so unifying and yet offering everyone a unique voice.

But the root, murky, ethical problem that was a huge deal when passing the lottery bill in each state it is in is the gambling. And let’s repeat; we’re in the south. Gambling is a huge moral issue. All the turmoil over the lottery more or less died off after the benefits of it started to roll in. Now it’s just a way of life. And the demographic of who buys lottery tickets and scratch-offs hasn’t changed either; it’s mostly low-income families. One of the arguments made for having a state lottery where the proceeds go to education was that everyone can get behind it. Middle class, upper class, everyone. These groups of people haven’t really participated though. That money being raised is the income of our low-income communities. The case can be made for helping those communities to put its income back into the community by helping its youth with improving education, but the money isn’t being directly funneled into those types of places. It’s being spread across an entire state. This is why I personally buy lottery scratch-offs. I belong to a household where our combined income pre-taxes puts us just above six figures. There are households buying lottery tickets stuck at incomes of just above five. If those who can buy scratch-offs and tickets do start buying them, the makeup of the money raised would more accurately represent the areas it will go to help out. 

This plays into my next point; the lottery, for all the good it does, isn’t so much fixing problems with education (and the problems elsewhere that lead to it) so much as it is putting band-aids on it. It pays for scholarships because they’re cheaper to give out than lowering state tuition rates for public universities. It paid teacher salaries because we don’t have a system to ensure they stay hired and get paid a decent wage, regardless of the state of our economy. And on top of that, it’s incredibly small compared to our state’s education budget, which is still small. Last year, the education budget was $11 billion, and the take from the NCEL was $500 million. That’s just a drop in the bucket for a mid-sized state like North Carolina. Teachers are leaving here IN DROVES, from lack of opportunities and funding. Teachers who do stay are having to get second jobs, pay for class supplies out of pocket, or even moving to other industries, like business management. State scholarships and financial aid is uncommon, apart from loans; the program does put a dent in increasing students going to college regardless of means, but the number who receive this money far outweighs the number that doesn’t (and do deserve it as well). Money raised from the lottery will probably never equal the money doled out from the state budget, but if everyone participates in the lottery, it will be drastically increased, and more fun.

That idea, that it’s fun, is something not lost on me. I enjoy getting a scratch-off, although I rarely win anything (oh boy, $5!). It seems there is a perception of the lottery only being used by people with low morals and even lower future prospects, but why is that? The lottery is cheap to play, it goes to a cause everyone can get behind, and it is FUN. Why isn’t everyone doing it? Yes, you are gambling, but how is it different than a charity raffle, or donating semi-consistently with the occasional reward? It is addicting, I won’t deny that. There is a feeling to it that keeps you coming back, that chance for, well, chance to pay out. I think the best way to combat this symptom of the lottery is by having better mental health care for the public, but I admit that this is like wishing John Boehner would stop being orange dickbag. Pending that, there could be more information available about how becoming addicted to gambling is not something to be ashamed of, but should be paid attention to as well. 

Yes, I am a fan of the NCEL, just as I was a fan of it’s equivalent in South Carolina, the SCEL. I think lotteries made to provide and bolster funding for education are to be commended and supported. No, I don’t think it’s like the IBC, because it provides consistent and direct funding to education, and it is completely open about where that money goes to. When this ice bucket bullshit is over, people will still be buying lottery tickets. 

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