Don’t gamble on our future

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Guess what Don Siegelman is talking about-again.

The former Alabama governor, who could be mulling another run at the state’s top spot, is testing the waters for an education lottery, according to a recent newspaper column.

&uot;If not through a lottery, then how will we fund quality education?&uot; he asks.

Siegelman must have felt an Alabama lottery was a slam-dunk in 1998, after he defeated then-incumbent Fob James. However, Alabama voters defeated a proposed lottery in October 1999.

Unfortunately, the state is still placing bandages on the gaping wounds of education. Siegelman may see that as a window of opportunity for his lottery – if he does run for governor, and wins re-election in 2006.

&uot;While the moral and religious views of all Alabamians are to be respected, it seems morally consistent to me to want every child in Alabama to have a quality education and for that education to be paid for through a lottery,&uot; he argues.

&uot;Given the prevailing anti-tax sentiment in Alabama, the only workable solution at this point is to establish a lottery for education.&uot;

He’s incorrect. A lottery only serves as an additional tax for Alabamians – many of whom are among our most underprivileged residents. Several non-partisan studies have shown poorer residents of states with lotteries spend a higher percentage of their income on lotteries than other residents.

According to the National Gambling Impact Study Commission, two Duke University professors reported six years ago individuals earning less than $10,000 per year spent more money on lotteries than any other age group. The professors also reported high school dropouts spent four times as much as college graduates.

While Siegelman touts college scholarships in his proposal, some students may never get a chance to attend school – because of gambling problems.

According to the NGISC, there were 15 million Americans labeled as pathological gamblers in 1999. Half of them were teenagers.

In Louisiana, 16 percent of adolescents had gambling problems, according to a 1996 Louisiana State University report.

Siegleman is correct on at least one point.

In his column, he criticizes the Christian Coalition for opposing a lottery, and then offering no solutions to help schools. Maybe it’s because the group doesn’t see a funding problem.

On its website, (, the Alabama Christian Coalition states Alabama schools have enough money to operate effectively.

&uot;One problem with Alabama’s education budget has to do with the way money is spent, not the quantity of money available,&uot; the website states.

&uot;According to the Alabama Department of Education, only about 51 percent of all education expenditures are used for instruction.

&uot;The Christian Coalition of Alabama maintains that Alabama schools do not have a funding problem; they have a spending problem.&uot;

That’s likely part of the problem. But not every school or system has the money to adequately teach children, such as those in Mountain Brook, Vestavia – or Shelby County.

Rural community schools across the state have been forced to close, and consolidate with other schools because they’re broke. Some schools can’t update curriculum, because they’re trying to pay for heat and air. Other schools are trimming beneficial extracurricular programs, such as band, athletics and JROTC.

Alabamians may or may not have a chance to vote on the lottery in the future. Regardless, something has to be done to help state schools.

Unfortunately, there are no good suggestions out there.

Patrick Johnston is a staff writer at the Shelby County Reporter. He can be reached at