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Rep. Meyer wants to use lottery funds to pay teachers’ student loans

Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, unveiled yesterday new legislation he filed to take money from the North Carolina Education Lottery and create a fund that would be used to pay off teachers’ student loans.

House Bill 1031 would take $38.5 million the lottery received in January due to unusually high jackpots and create the NC Teacher HELP Fund, which Meyer said would be used to help more than 3,800 teachers.

“This type of loan forgiveness is targeted directly at the young teachers who are most likely to leave the profession because of North Carolina’s lagging pay,” Meyer said during a press conference Wednesday.

Meyer was joined by his co-sponsors at the press conference: Rep. Edward Hanes, D-Forsyth, Rep. Bobbie Richardson, D-Nash, and Rep. Brad Salmon, D-Harnett.

Hanes said that when he first heard about the $38.5 million “windfall,” he reached out to Meyer to see how it could be put to use. There is no reason the General Assembly can’t use the money to pay off teachers’ student loans, he said.

“We come right back to this central question, which is why can’t we use these funds to ease the burden on these public servants?” he said. “Why can’t we take a chance of bringing a diverse group…to the table and ignore this national political petulance that we see every day?”

Richardson said that the average four-year teaching degree wracks up $22,997 in loans for the student.

“We are talking about lifting our teachers up and putting our state on the cutting edge,” she said.

She also said that CEOs are looking for good school districts and a good workforce. Helping teachers pay off their loans would contribute to do this and be a tool for economic development, she said.

Meyer also criticized Governor Pat McCrory’s proposed budget, which would use roughly the same amount of money from the lottery to pay for textbooks and digital resources. Since the lottery money is one-time money, Meyer said it’s not appropriate to use it to pay for education items.

“The General Assembly should live up to its obligation to pay for supplies with general fund money,” he said.

Meyer said he floated his proposal by the committee chairs of the House Education Appropriations Committee. He said it’s an “idea they are only beginning to explore.”

“We believe that this is an idea that’s worth considering, and if our chambers’ leaders are serious about taking any good idea from no matter where it comes, then we would welcome the chance to talk to them further about this bill,” Meyer said.

The three chairs of the Education Appropriations Committee are all Republicans.

See the video of the full press conference below.

Alex Granados

Alex Granados is senior reporter for EducationNC.