Lottery plan would

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 30, 1999

help Alabama students

By MICHELLE WILSON

Published Sept. 30, 1999

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Earlier this week, the Alabama Association of University women hosted a lottery forum at which foes of Gov. Don Siegelman’s Alabama Lottery for Education criticized the program, which would fund college scholarships.

I am glad we live in a society where opinions like theirs can be publicly expressed, but I do not agree with their reasoning. I encourage Alabamians to go to the polls Oct. 12 and vote "yes" for the lottery.

The program was passed this spring by the state Legislature. Since the lottery requires a change in our state’s constitution, it must go before voters as a referendum.

Our lottery plan is modeled after Georgia’s lottery. Its revenue would fund HOPE Scholarships to allow all high school graduates with B averages to attend state colleges tuition free. The program will also bring computers to classrooms and finance a voluntary prekindergarten program for 4 year olds. Siegelman has said the lottery will raise $150 million a year to fund these education projects.

I voted yes to the Georgia lottery in 1992 when I lived there as a college student, and I still support the concept of a lottery for education. We need to approve the lottery for Alabama for several reasons.

Educating Alabama’s youth needs to be a governmental priority because children are our future. Caring for our children is everyone’s responsibility. It takes a village to raise a child, as Hillary Rodham Clinton said.

The HOPE scholarships that would be generated by lottery revenue would give more students the opportunity to earn a college education. Knowledge is not the only thing that comes with an education. It brings self-esteem.

With a college education, our children can get high paying jobs and put money back into Alabama’s economy. With a better-educated population, our state will be able to recruit more business and industry.

You cannot ignore the positive effect the lottery has had in Georgia. Statistics show Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship program has had a positive impact on higher education there. A new national report shows the state’s undergraduates are the most likely in the country to get state financial aid.

"Thanks largely to the lottery-funded HOPE program, 85 percent (of college students) received some kind of state grant or scholarship to attend public and private college during the 1997-98 academic year," according to an article in the May 18 issue of "The Savannah Morning News."

More than 360,000 Georgia high school students have received HOPE scholarships to attend college, according to "An Evaluation of Georgia’s HOPE Scholarship Program" by the Council for School Performance. Last year, 98 percent of in-state freshmen at the University of Georgia were HOPE scholars.

Since 1994, the number of HOPE recipients has increased, along with the state’s average SAT score. SAT scores are 35 points higher on average now than before HOPE was implemented.

The statistics speak for themselves. HOPE should have similar results in Alabama.

Although Georgia’s program was instituted after I graduated from college, my own family has benefited from the lottery. My first cousin starts college this month at a Georgia school, and he will go for free. Without the HOPE Scholarship, I doubt he would have been able to afford a college education.

Occasionally I buy lottery tickets. It is fun to fantasize what I would do with the money if I won the big game. If we had a lottery in Alabama, my dollars and thousands other would stay in Alabama instead of crossing the lines to Georgia and Alabama.

Over the past six years, Alabamians have spent $446 million on lottery tickets in Georgia and over $600 million in Florida lottery tickets since 1998, according to the Mobile Register.

Opponents equate lottery with casino gambling and parimutuel betting. They believe it is morally wrong. For me, a lottery and casino gambling are completely different.

Have you ever participated in an auction at your church or local civic association? Have you ever bought a chance on a quilt to benefit the American Cancer Society or other charity? Then you have gambled.

Buying a lottery ticket is no different. You are buying a chance on a prize. It is for a good cause, just like your church or charity.

Some say they support education but do not believe the lottery will be able to completely fund the proposed programs. They also say they are against the program because it is not an appropriate way to fund education. Instead, they suggest a state tax increase to fund college scholarships.

We all agree educational improvements are needed. But I pay enough taxes already. I do not want it taken out of my paycheck when I do not have children in the schools.

At least with a lottery I have a choice. I can choose to buy a ticket. If another tax is instituted, citizens will not have a choice. If I choose to buy a lottery ticket, I get something in return immediately – a chance. I realize my chances to win are low, but at least I got something for my money. If there were additional state taxes to fund education, I personally would not benefit immediately.

Remember that the lottery will be on the ballot Oct. 12 to coincide with city elections in Birmingham and Montgomery. If you care about our state’s future, I encourage you to go to the polls that day and vote "yes" for the Alabama Lottery for Education.

Michelle J. Wilson is a staff writer for The Messenger.