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AG King: Anniston scholarship fund unconstitutional

ANNISTON (AP) — A scholarship program that has used $500,000 in Anniston city funds to help 480 high school students pay for college is unconstitutional and should be stopped, according to a state attorney general's advisory opinion.

The Anniston City Schools Foundation Next Start scholarships have helped Anniston High School graduates go to college since 1998, but the advisory opinion said Anniston cannot give public money to private individuals for college.

"The appropriation of city funds for the purpose of awarding college scholarships is neither expressly authorized by the state nor is the authority essential to the operation of the city of Anniston," Attorney General Troy King wrote.

He said the city cannot fund the program directly or indirectly, and said voters would have to approve a special tax to pay for the scholarships.

The Anniston Star reported on the program's end in a story Tuesday.

King released the opinion earlier this month after ruling on the question of whether Anniston could use private school vouchers. King said the city cannot.

Foundation director Catherine Chappell said 33 Anniston High School students have applied for the scholarships this year and staff members will help them find alternate funds.

She said the opinion won't affect students who currently are using money from the program, and those who previously received money won't have to pay it back.

City leaders say they are looking for other options to keep the program going.

Anniston Mayor Chip Howell has requested a copy of the program's operating budget, "so that the council may consider assisting them in another way."

Councilman Jeff Fink, whose request for the opinion on vouchers generated the question about the scholarships, said the ruling was unfortunate.

Former Mayor Gene Stedham started the Next Start program and said the attorney general's office told him over the phone in 1998 that the scholarships were legal as long as there were no restrictions on who got them.

Rick Whitehead was city attorney at the time and said he was not asked by the City Council to determine whether the program was legal.


Information from: The Anniston Star,

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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