updated 10/13/2004 9:40:05 AM ET 2004-10-13T13:40:05

During these tough budget times, schools don’t often pass up a check for $10,000. But that’s just what one Idaho charter school has done — to set a moral example for students.

The North Star Public Charter School turned down the money because it came from the Idaho State Lottery and school officials decided that taking gambling money would conflict with the school’s mission of developing virtuous citizens.

“We couldn’t in good conscience take the money,” said Gale Pooley, co-founder and chairman of the school board. “It’s the less fortunate and the poor in the communities who are buying these tickets, and children are the ones who will pay for it.”

But Chuck Strutt, executive director of the Multistate Lottery Association based in Iowa, said more than 70 percent of the population plays the lottery, not just the poor.

“It’s hard to argue with those holier-than-thou types, but that’s just not true. Imagine yourself starting a business — who would you target, people with money or the poor? Lotteries bring in $40 billion a year in this country, and poor people don’t have $40 billion,” Strutt said.

Pooley said North Star’s decision did not meet much resistance from parents. Out of 270 students, only about 10 parents called to complain. One unhappy parent, however, was Jennifer Butler, who has three sons attending North Star.

“I’m really disappointed with the board’s decision,” she said. “They didn’t consult parents about it and we could really use the money. I don’t believe in the lottery personally, but the state budget says the money is to go to education and that’s our share of the money.”

First to reject lottery funding
Allison Westfall, state Department of Education spokeswoman, said North Star is the first Idaho school to turn down lottery funding. North Star is located in Eagle, an upscale bedroom community just outside of Boise.

Since it was created by voters in 1989, the Idaho lottery has paid more than $250 million to public buildings and schools.

The $9,532 check offered by the lottery to North Star represented less than 1 percent of the school’s $1.2 million annual budget, or about 20 cents per student per day, Pooley said.

“I’d like to say we’re lucky the check wasn’t for $2 million or $10 million,” Pooley joked.

The rejected money is likely to be thrown back into the lottery’s pool for distribution next year.

Inquiries with several states that funnel lottery money to education found no precedent.

Tom Dunn, spokesman for the New York State Department of Education, said he has never heard of a school turning down its share of the more than $21 billion in funding provided by New York’s state lottery.

California’s state lottery has provided more than $14 billion in school funding and California State Department of Education spokeswoman Deborah Kennedy said no public school there has turned down the money.

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