What to do about TOPS? The popular college scholarship program has grown from $50-million in 1999, to a cost of nearly $300-million this year, and Louisiana is facing a $1.2-billion drop in revenues next year.
“Doing nothing is not an option moving forward,” says Representative Franklin Foil of Baton Rouge.
So a task force is convening next month to begin work on the problem of keeping TOPS sustainable.
“Obviously, the biggest reason is we didn’t fully fund it last year, for the first time since its inception,” says Jennings Senator Blade Morrish.
Morrish, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, authored the resolution to form the study group and will chair the task force. He says they’ll look at how TOPS began and why, and what’s changed in the nearly two decades since.
“When it was created, we had no community college system in Louisiana, and we didn’t have admissions standards to our universities – both of which we have now,” Morrish remarks.
He says he’s pleased with the makeup of the group, which includes five House members and five Senators. They are House Education Committee Chair Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette; Rep. Ted James, D-Baton Rouge; Rep. Thomas Carmody, R-Shreveport; Rep. Franklin Foil, R-Baton Rouge; Rep. Gary Carter, D-New Orleans; Sen. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans; Sen. Ed Price, D-Gonzales; Sen. Bodi White, R-Central; Sen. Mike Walsworth, R-West Monroe; and Morrish.
“I think it’s a real good mix -- pretty much covered the state and crossing the political spectrum, both Democrats and Republicans -- folks who can make some decisions and have different opinions and discuss those different opinions concerning TOPS.”
And the opinions do differ. Foil, who authored a bill this year to raise the GPA for TOPS, says since it’s a “scholarship”, it should be awarded based on achievement.
“It should be a merit-based program,” Foil states. “It doesn’t matter how much your parents make. If you as a student make the grades, you should get the benefit of the TOPS scholarship.”
But Representative Ted James, who actually attended college thanks to TOPS, thinks the program should become more needs-based.
“We are one of the poorest states, so we have to do more for those students if we are serious about moving the economy,” James insists.
The first meeting of the group is September 6th.