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House committee considers PACT bill

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A House committee on Wednesday took up the issue of the state's financially struggling Prepaid Alabama College Tuition Program, otherwise known as PACT.  A bill, sponsored by House Minority Leader Craig Ford of Gadsden, would take money from the state's Budget Stabilization Fund and give it to PACT in any year when the program couldn't meet its obligations.  

"The victims of this circumstance are the children, the students," Rep. Ford said.  "I just think we have a moral obligation to stand up for those students in the state of Alabama."

The Legislature passed a bill in 2010 allocating $548 million over the next two decades to shore up the PACT program.  But those who run the program said that still isn't enough.  A settlement between the program and parents would cap the tuition PACT pays at 2010 levels, with parents making up any difference.  The Supreme Court is currently reviewing the settlement.

House Ways and Means Education Committee Chairman Jay Love of Montgomery sent Ford's bill to a subcommittee.   He wants to wait until the Supreme Court rules on the settlement between the program and parents.   Rep. Love said the bill isn't the way to handle PACT's problems.

"It affects the rolling reserve bill, the responsible budgeting bill we passed last year," Rep. Love said.  I don't think that's the vehicle for it. I believe it's just looking at it on a year by year basis.  And see what extra dollars we have available to help support PACT."

Members of the group Save Alabama PACT lobbied representatives after the meeting.  They said with more than 39,000 PACT contracts still out there, they believe the program can't afford to wait. 

 "If we wait for the Supreme Court to make a ruling, we could run out of money," said Chris Shubird, a member of the group. "And we may have to dissolve the whole thing, if we're not careful." 

Save Alabama PACT said it would continue its push to cap tuition increases at the University of Alabama and Auburn University.  Members said that would help stabilize the program.   At least one lawmaker said there may be support for that this year than in past years.

Copyright 2012  WSFA 12 News.  All rights reserved.

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