Changes needed for TOPS program

The first thrust at bringing some reforms to Louisiana’s college scholarship program met defeat last week, but other legislation

appears to be warming up in the bullpen.

Proponents say changes are needed in the popular Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, or TOPS, to rein in costs and to

add a degree of difficulty in qualifying for the funding.

House Bill 385, by state Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Houma, addressed some of those issues but suffered an 8-4 death in the House

Education Committee.

H.B. 1023 by House Speaker Chuck

Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, is said to have a better chance. He is

proposing to raise the minimum

standards for a student to qualify for TOPS to a 2.75 grade point

average and a score of 22 on the ACT. If approved, those

standards would apply in 2018, 2019 and 2020. Beginning in 2021,

students would have to earn a 3.0 GPA and a 24 on the ACT.

Currently, the standards are a 2.5 GPA and a minimum score of 20 on the ACT for students to qualify for the lowest level of

TOPS.

Kleckley’s bill also calls for freshmen and sophomores to shoulder a larger share of their tuition costs. The tuition of juniors

and seniors would be fully funded as they are now.

The speaker’s bill would also dedicate any savings to other scholarship programs for qualifying students.

Kleckley has indicated he will likely amend his bill to better its chances of passage.

More than 47,000 students took

advantage of TOPS during the 2012-2013 school year. But some people

argue that it is unsustainable,

pointing out that costs have risen from $95 million since the

program’s inception in the late ’90s to about $220 million for

the current year.

“If we don’t do this, there will be no TOPS,” said Harrison.

Some lawmakers are also interested in recouping some of the TOPS payments from students who drop or flunk out of college.

But opponents argue that raising standards, particularly on the ACT where traditionally minority students have scored lower

than white students, will eliminate deserving students from the program.

“What are they trying to do? Make it a program for the rich?” said James Caillier, a representative from the Patrick Taylor

Foundation, which bears the name of the man who hatched the idea for the program.

Gov. Bobby Jindal has staunchly opposed any changes to TOPS.

This battle will likely be waged in the coming weeks and certainly bears watching for the passion and practicality emanating

from both sides.