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Alabama House OKs funding to rebuild tornado-hit schools

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — After a sometimes emotional debate, the Alabama House passed a bill Tuesday to appropriate up to $79 million in state funding to rebuild two tornado-ravaged schools in Enterprise, including the high school where eight children huddled in a hallway were killed.

The bill passed the House 100-1 after a two-hour debate in which some representatives questioned whether $79 million was more than would be needed to rebuild Enterprise High School and neighboring Hillcrest Elementary School, which were struck by the March 1 tornado.

"You could build a Taj Mahal of a high school for $33 million," said Rep. Richard Laird, D-Roanoke.

Laird cast the only "no" vote against the bill, but other lawmakers questioned plans to spend state money to rebuild athletic facilities, including tennis courts, along with the two schools.

"My students don't even know what a tennis ball is," said Rep. James Thomas, D-Selma, who is principal of Wilcox Central High School in Camden in the economically depressed Black Belt region.

The sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Terry Spicer, D-Enterprise, said the appropriation would allow work to begin immediately on the schools. He said the state education budget would be reimbursed from insurance coverage and from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"It's the top priority for just about everybody in the Senate," said Lt. Gov. Jim Folsom Jr., who presides over the Senate.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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