Concerns about the Prepaid Affordable College Tuition program were the focus of a meeting held at the Grove Hill Subdivision Clubhouse Thursday night for the East Alabama chapter of SaveAlabamaPACT!.
“Job one for us as a SaveAlabamaPACT! area is to locate PACT contract holders (and make) our contracts solvent,” said Terry Calcote, an East Alabama area leader. “I’m gratified that we had a full house here tonight.”
Speakers invited to share insight on the PACT situation included Alabama State Representatives Mike Hubbard of Auburn and Pebblin Warren of Tuskegee; Senator Ted Little of Auburn; Dr. Robert Bentley of Tuscaloosa; Jeremy Sherer of Oneonta; and George Wallace Jr. of Montgomery.
“I don’t think you really need to panic,” Hubbard said. “To date, no one has been harmed. No one’s PACT has not been paid.”
Hubbard said Gov. Bob Riley said he feels the state has a moral obligation to find a solution.
“We’ve got a cause that we can’t lose,” Hubbard said. “We’re trying to save our children’s education.”
Little said he feels a grassroots organization such as SaveAlabamaPACT! may have a great impact on reversing the shortage of PACT funding.
“The problem is real, the economy is real and we’re all trying to make a logical comeback,” Little said. “Our bonded indebtedness is going down.”
Little said he believes money should be taken from the top of the state’s budget before anything else has been appropriated.
“In my opinion, a solution will take place by 2011,” Little said. “The state of Alabama is morally responsible for making sure this program stays afloat.”
Little said Auburn University and the University of Alabama probably have more PACT contract enrollees than any other colleges in the state.
“Auburn and the University of Alabama would take a tremendous hit if tuition were capped,” Hubbard said.
Bentley said 10.1 percent of students at Auburn University were PACT beneficiaries last year, while 10.4 percent of students at the University of Alabama were beneficiaries.
“This is a guaranteed program and we’ve got to live up to that,” Bentley said. “We do not, as PACT people, want to be considered a government bailout program.”
Bentley said an option for contract holders is to borrow the amount PACT cannot pay from the Alabama Trust Fund.
“This is a $600 million problem you can’t fix overnight,” said Dr. Richard Huckaby of Lanett.
Little said another possibility is using federal stimulus money to alleviate the program’s debt.
“We’ve got to trust our legislators (to) find our funding sources,” Hubbard said. “We’re not going to stop until we have paid every one of (the contracts).”
Sherer said the PACT board has guaranteed to continue to pay contract holders’ tuition through the fall and spring semesters.
“The state treasury has to be committed to reducing administration costs in PACT,” Sherer said. “I think (contract holders) expected greater diligence and a greater level of honesty from the state legislature and state treasury office.”
Wallace said the initial goal of PACT was to help middle income families in need of pay for college in the state of Alabama.
“(These families) pay all the taxes for programs they don’t qualify for,” Wallace said.
Warren said Alabama was one of the later states to get on board with PACT.
“Many people didn’t have the resources to pay for PACT then, but now wish they had,” Warren said.
Angie Chappell, an Auburn citizen and holder of four PACT contracts, said she disagreed.
“It was a sacrifice because we value education, and it’s not really a fair statement to say (we) couldn’t buy it,” Chappell said. “It’s what you choose to be valuable to you.”
Chappell said she and her husband made a commitment to buy PACT contracts for each of their five children’s first-born child.
“We’ve still got one more to go,” Chappell said. “They’re all paid off except the last one (which) was $22,000. That’s a lot of money to come up with.”
The next meeting for the East Alabama chapter of SaveAlabamaPACT! is Nov. 19, 2009.
“I feel very assured that when we have our next meeting, we’ll have at least triple the number,” Calcote said.
Calcote said she is a PACT contract holder for her son at Auburn and her daughter at Southern Union.
“I would speak to Auburn University students who are beneficiaries to get their parents involved in SaveAlabamaPACT!,” Calcote said. “In November, we would like to see some Auburn University students.”