Lottery for education? Been there, done that'

Published 12:04 pm Wednesday, May 22, 2002

By Staff
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Gov. Don Siegelman has announced that he plans to revive his idea of a lottery for education that would bring barrels full of money to help a floundering system of public education that continually faces cuts through proration.
Proration is easy to explain, in a way. Each year, the state projects how much money particular taxes will bring in and it formulates a budget based on those projections. But in the case of education, which is funded largely through sales tax, dips in the economy result in inaccurate projections.
This means the school systems spent for several months based on the anticipation of one amount of revenue, when the actual amount of revenue is far lower. Then they have to cut expenses to get in line with actual projections, plus cut some more to make up for overspending based on the original projections.
Four years ago, Siegelman rode a wave of popular support for education into the governor's mansion, and making good on a campaign promise, he held an election to get voters to approve his lottery for education.
Never mind that the money would not help K-12 education in the state, but would, instead, be doled out in the form of college scholarships and pre-school programs. Never mind that voters blasted the idea out of the water by a 65 percent majority when the vote came down to the wire.
The bottom line is that Siegelman had a plan and followed through on it. And voters said no.
Siegelman took the news in stride and moved forward with other plans. In fact, his performance in the weeks and months following his humbling defeat was noteworthy and commendable.
Now, with another election looming, Siegelman has resurrected this old skeleton in a case of it-worked-before-so-it-may-work-again political maneuvering designed to take focus on some of the less popular elements of his four years in office. The most notable of these issues is the controversy that continues to follow him regarding "no-bid" contracts given to key political contributors.
But Alabama has been down the lottery road before and didn't like where that road was headed. Sure things change and ideas that once were not popular have time to take root.
But is three years enough time to resurrect this issue?
Not when the only point seems to be to put the governor back in office.
We strongly oppose Siegelman's old proposal for "a lottery for education" when the money will not be spent on critical K-12 improvements, but will, instead, allow more young adults to go to school at state expense. Any lottery is questionable on moral grounds, and while this is vitally important to weigh and consider, we ask first whether or not the end result of the money itself is worth supporting. And it is not. We become even more adamant about this when we consider the social evils that accompany legalized gambling.
Siegelman, though, is not alone in trying to cash in on hot political buttons. All candidates do it to some degree. As he seeks to stand on the lottery platform, his rival, Lt. Gov. and GOP-candidate-for-governor Steve Windom says he is tired of rich school districts not being able to keep high levels of funding due to state laws that people believe "rob richer districts to give to poorer ones."
But these ideas and events will not solve our dilemma in Alabama. Our educational woes are not the result of having no lottery or to the number of tax mills school districts have in place. They are the result of a bad and inadequate system that bets the future of our children on wild projections of how many retail dollars will be spent in the state. And this won't cut it.
We must reform educational funding. We must get away from using wildly fluctuating tax bases to educate our children. If these two candidates can't get to the real issues n and our legislature continues to fail to make progress in this area n it will be time to vote for new faces when the election comes around.
Education is not an important issue; it is the important issue in this election. However, nothing that either of these candidates has said will deliver us from the problems that continue to plague our state.
And thus far, we have heard nothing that comes close to fixing our woes from those who currently represent us in the state's top offices.

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