At what price?

Published 7:48 pm Monday, April 20, 2009

A bill approved in Senate Committee last week to aid Alabama’s Prepaid Affordable College Tuition Plan could bring relief to parents who are hoping their investment will count.

The question is, what will it cost?

The bill passed by the Senate Finance and Taxation-General Fund Committee Wednesday, the first of its kind to receive any support in votes, would provide PACT with some state funds, freeze tuition increases on state universities until 2012 and change leadership.

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But since the bill doesn’t specify where the money will come from, some have cautioned it may decrease funding for K-12 appropriations, reported the Associated Press.

“I do not want money taken from K-12 for the PACT program,” said Troy City Schools Superintendent Linda Felton-Smith.

While Felton-Smith said she supports the state’s efforts to assist the program in some way, she doesn’t want it to come at cost to other students.

“My concern would be people invested in the program in hopes they would be able to afford tuition for their children,” Felton-Smith said. “However, I do not want us to find K-12 losing money in order to replace money from the PACT program.”

Neither Troy City or Pike County Schools have a count of how many students are enrolled in the program, but PCS Superintendent Mark Bazzell said it is a program he would like to see continue, as well.

“I participated in that program with all three of my children, and I think those folks that invested in that ought to at least be able to get their money back,” Bazzell said. “They ought to try to find a way to save it if they can.”

Local Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne, said he is supportive of assisting the program in some way.

“Overall, I support this bill, but based on what I heard at committee level, I feel it’s going to be changed before it passes,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said the bill as proposed now is one that should have minimal effect on the education budget, and he anticipates not having to pay much to the program.

“They made a big argument in committee that the chances of having to borrow money from the General Fund were slim, and I’m counting on that,” Mitchell said.

If the money is borrowed from the state, Mitchell said it would be paid back by PACT overtime.

Mitchell said the bill on the table now could meet the most opposition from universities across Alabama, who count on tuition increases to meet their own budget needs.

Troy University, however, has already agreed to a three-year tuition freeze for PACT students. Only Alabama State University has followed their lead.

Jimmy Holley, R-Elba, and co-sponsor of the bill told the AP there will likely be changes before there is a final vote.

*The Associated Press contributed to this report.