“It it’s not broken, let’s don’t try to fix it,” Senator Francis Thompson of Delhi summed up the sentiment of a majority of the Senate regarding TOPS.
TOPS isn’t broken, but many lawmakers see curbing the cost of the college scholarship program as part of the fix for the state budget. A measure that would have saved an estimated $24-million per year, by raising the standards for TOPS was argued on the Senate floor Monday.
“We don’t get money for TOPS from a money tree we shake in the backyard,” argued New Orleans Senator J.P. Morrell. “As we put money into TOPS, we are cutting money to other things.”
But Senator Gerald Long of Winnfield said TOPS has proven to be a worthwhile investment of taxpayer dollars.
“We spend millions of dollars each year in this state, where we don’t look back at the cost and determine whether it was a good investment or not,” Long stated.
“The amount of money that we spend on this program is absolutely worth it,” said Port Allen Senator Rick Ward.
New Orleans Senator Karen Carter Peterson argued that increasing the requirements for getting a TOPS scholarship cuts out many of the students the program was designed to help.
“This is a bad policy decision,” Peterson said of the bill authored by Mandeville Senator Jack Donahue. “It reduces opportunity for education in one of the most impoverished states in the country. That’s not a good thing.”
Senator Thompson warned that voters won’t look kindly on changes to the deeply popular scholarship program.
“If I could see one bill that would help send you home, this is it,” Thompson told his fellow members of the upper chamber.
But Donahue, the bill’s author and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said Louisiana should raise expectations of the students getting their college tuition covered—especially when the state is facing such tight budgets.
“Senator Thompson said this bill will send you home. I would rather be sent home than do something I don’t think is right,” Donahue said when closing on the bill. “I’m voting for this bill ‘cause I think it’s the right thing to do, and I’ll urge you to do the same.”
Whether it was fear of voter backlash or simple reluctance to mess with a good thing, the effort to tweak TOPS failed to pass. The vote was 16 for, 23 against.