Now is not that time.
Two proposals to address the PACT plan's financial woes have been presented, and neither provides the answer contract-holders need or deserve.
State Treasurer Kay Ivey's plan oddly wanted universities to pay for the tuition PACT could no longer handle. That proposal was dead in the water as soon as it began, since neither of the state's largest universities, Auburn and Alabama, seem willing to cut PACT-using students any tuition slack. Their budgets slashed during the recession, the schools want their money, too.
This week, the PACT board boldly trotted out its idea: Beginning this fall, PACT would pay a fixed amount to each contract-holder, with the amount based on the average hourly rates schools charge for the given year. When the economy improves — and the return on PACT's investments improves — the amount PACT pays its contract-holders could increase.
Nevertheless, filling the monetary gap wouldn't become the responsibility of the universities; it would be up to the contract-holders to pay the difference, which in some cases could be as much as $500 per semester.
Optimistically, board members said they hoped universities would turn to scholarships or student-aid programs to help contract-holders make up the difference. Of course, there's not enough scholarships or student aid to assist all who'd need it.
Today, with the state Legislature soon to convene and PACT debate a hot topic for the coming session, neither of these plans should become the locked-in, chosen alternative. They're too deficient to embrace.
The state's moral obligation to honor PACT contracts hasn't changed. Debate still rages about whether PACT families were "guaranteed" or "promised" four years of paid tuition, and how the language of those contracts might be interpreted by the courts. Eventually, judges may answer that pertinent question.
Despite the recession and the state's fiscal misery, Alabama's moral obligation to those who bought in to the state-run program should be upheld. And getting the universities on board with some sort of palatable plan is one of the biggest keys.
Since 1991, thousands of Alabama families have trusted PACT investments to pay for their children's college education. That's how the program was sold; you pay into the program and you get something valuable in return. Many Alabamians have received just that, and the state is better for it.
Yet, that's exactly why Alabama must exhaust all options to honor the contracts of current contract-holders. Today, the state cannot simply tell its PACT families too bad, we've done all we can do, now it's up to you.
That day may come. It is a possibility. But the state must continue to search for a complete remedy for PACT. It's the right thing to do.