PENDER COUNTY -- Are education lottery dollars helping your child's school? If you live in Brunswick, New Hanover or Pender County the answer -- according to several state lawmakers -- is no. Those fast growing counties are not getting the money they need for new school construction projects. And now politicians are working to change that. Every day Lorrie Luhring's son Parker gets dropped off at an overcrowded Topsail Middle School in Pender County. It's overcrowded because, as one of the fastest growing counties in the state, Pender can't keep up with the number of kids. Luhring said, "I cringe when I have to go into one of the classrooms. It's very crowded, desks are very close. We have a few classes in computer storage rooms and the janitor's closet." Pender County needs about $100 million over the next ten years for new school construction projects, like the new Topsail High School. The county will get about $500,000 next year from North Carolina Education Lottery funds -- far less than other counties. The lawmakers who wrote the legislation recognized the poorest counties based on their property taxes. Counties with high property taxes were thought to be the poorest because they badly need taxpayer money for the county's general fund. On the flip side, counties with lower property taxes were thought to be financially stable enough to afford new school construction projects without a lot of help from the education lottery. Even though Pender County is getting a piece of the pie, its tax rate is too low to qualify for a larger portion. Rep. Carolyn Justice said, "I think the formula is a bad formula." Justice is working with other state lawmakers to change the way the school construction money is allocated. She wants to see the money follow the child -- instead of the property tax rate. "It's the counties that are growing, and they're the very ones that need the school construction money," Justice said. "The counties here in southeastern North Carolina are the big losers. Brunswick's a loser. Pender's a loser. New Hanover is not getting what I think they should get." At the end of next year Luhring's son Parker will go to the new Topsail High School. She hopes will have plenty of room to grow. Right now, Pender County's tax rate is 80.03 percent. In order to qualify for a larger portion of school construction money, a county's tax rate must be above 100 percent.
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