Locals react to proposal to sell naming rights for TOPS, state g - FOX 8 WVUE New Orleans News, Weather, Sports, Social

Locals react to proposal to sell naming rights for TOPS, state grants, etc.

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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

It’s no secret the state’s popular TOPS scholarship program is under financial duress and one recommendation to ease the pressure is to have the legislature consider the sale of naming rights for the state’s scholarship program.

Some lawmakers outright hate the idea, others said they are willing to take a look at it as the state’s money crunch persists.

This as many students said it is very hard to make do with what they are receiving now from the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students, also called TOPS.

"It helps a little bit but if I would be getting the amount I said I was going to get when I was in high school it would be a lot different, it would be a lot easier for me to get through school because I'm a middle class family I don't really have a lot of leisure money,” said Vivian Tong, a UNO student.

She and others are anxious about a slew of recommendations made public this week for trimming the costs of TOPS, including one to make TOPS a flat grant not affected by rising tuition at various state owned colleges and universities.  Another recommendation would limit scholarship awards for freshmen and sophomores to 80 and 90-percent respectively.

"Even from last semester to this semester I'm paying about $1,500 more than I was and I'm going to have to start doing payment plans,” said Tong, who is a sophomore.

Some lawmakers said the program has gotten too large for the state’s coffers.

"I think we need to go to a needs-based, this has gotten out of hand and the state cannot just afford it, you know, we've got a lot of other priorities,” said Rep. John Bagneris, D-New Orleans.

State Senate President John Alario is Dean of the Legislature.  He hopes a proposed overhaul of the tax code in Louisiana would ease the pressure on TOPS.

"We're hoping to get into some tax reform that'll hopefully put a little stable approach on the revenues in the state and if we're able to accomplish that then I think TOPS would be one of our top priorities,” said Alario.

Another recommendation is that the legislature establish a process to give businesses and industry an opportunity to underwrite TOPS and the state’s GO Grant, etc., through the purchase of naming rights.

"That's a slap in Patrick Taylor's face. I think his legacy has brought TOPS this far and that would not be the right thing to do. I'm not for it,” Rep. Bagneris said emphatically.

"I wouldn't necessarily be averse, I think it's always good if private enterprise wants to make some contributions to help children further their education, that's not a bad idea, we do it all the time with programs throughout the university system,” said Alario.

And after back-to-back special sessions last year now there's talk that there could be a special session this year.

"We've got a large deficit left from behind that the legislature would not close the gap during the regular session and we need the money,” said Bagneris.

"Generally, our choice at this point if we just left it up to the governor would be higher education and health care, if we go into special session it opens up the whole budget for some cuts and that might make it easier to spread things around,” said Alario.

FOX 8 reached out to the Executive Director for the the Patrick Taylor Foundation for comment, but so far he has not responded.

The recommendations for changes to TOPS could be voted on by the Board of Regents in February.

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