One of the hardest fought battles every year in Louisiana’s Legislature is whether or not to fully fund the TOPS scholarship program. Rep. Franklin Foil (R-Baton Rouge) wants to bring an end to that annual struggle.
“I’ve always voted to fully fund TOPS," explains Foil, "so I welcome the opportunity to do anything I can to solidify the program so it is 100 percent funded.”
He’s brought a bill that would lay the groundwork to dedicate money to the program, insuring its funding year in and year out.
“It’s not fair to the students and parents to not know in advance if TOPS is going to be funded. And they have to wait 'til we finish the budget in the Legislature. So if we have a dedicated funding source, kids will know up front the money will be there if they meet the requirements for the program,” he says.
Foil’s bill sailed through the House Appropriations committee Tuesday without objection.
But some lawmakers say dedicating money to certain programs makes addressing the state’s constant budget shortfalls more difficult, because there’s less flexibility to move money around.
Those so-called dedicated funds are getting a hard look this session. Earlier this week, the Senate Finance committee narrowly passed a bill that would un-dedicate hundreds of millions of dollars in the state’s budget.
Foil supports calling a constitutional convention that would open dedicated funds up for even more review. But at the moment, he says — dedicated money is a reality of Louisiana’s budget, "so if we’re going to have dedicated funds, I want to make sure TOPS is one of the funds that’s protected.”
At the center of the TOPS funding struggle is the program’s price tag — nearly $300 million. Foil says it’s too expensive to maintain and needs to be reformed in order to rein in the cost.
He says "we need to toughen up the requirements," like raising the minimum GPA to qualify. But bills that would reform the scholarship program have failed to get enough support in the House this session.