Lawmakers meet to talk TOPS sustainability; hears from Phyllis Taylor

Lawmakers meet to talk TOPS sustainability; hears from Phyllis Taylor

BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - The state's scholarship program, known as the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students or TOPS is popular on college campuses, and a new task force is exploring ways to make financially sustainable for the future as the state continues to wrestle with money problems.

Some state lawmakers on the task force question the wisdom of keeping TOPS open to students with families of all income levels.

"TOPS is becoming something that's for those kids where their families seem to have more means than others," said Rep. Gary Carter, D-New Orleans.

Carter led that angle of discussion during the meeting inside the state capitol.

"In the very beginning when this legislation was passed there was this income component to it. As I looked at the numbers on TOPS today I know that 41 percent of the children that receive TOPS their families make over a hundred thousand dollars a year," Rep. Carter stated.

"In 1997, TOPS became the law removing the financial family qualifications allowing all students in Louisiana to have the opportunity of the tuition waiver but once again requiring that performance standards be met," said Phyllis Taylor, widow of oilman Pat Taylor who started the scholarship program.

Mrs. Taylor remains heavily involved.

"If you look at the statistical data you will see that when you look at the children of need, from lower income families that has also increased tremendously," she said.

Although the TOPS program is fully funded for this school year state government is facing a billion dollar fiscal cliff next year.

"Part of the reason why you're seeing I want to say hundreds but you probably have more than that, different attempts over the years to try to figure out a way to put this entire piece together because there probably isn't a more difficult issue, other than that the $1.5 billion budget we've got to try to solve in a couple of weeks, to try and resolve this particular matter," said Sen. Wesley Bishop, D-New Orleans.

"Well, I think the good news that we heard today is that we're still probably when it comes to when it comes to the TOPS and financial aid of this state, this state does almost as much financial aid as any state in the nation and I think that says a lot about our state and our feelings on education. I think we get hit a lot about what we do in education," said Sen. Mike Walsworth, R- West Monroe.

Mrs. Taylor was asked what her late husband might say about the issue.

"I have the greatest of confidence that he would tell you educate all of them and find the money that would be his answer," she said.

"I certainly understand the good work that her and her husband have done for the state of Louisiana throughout the years and as we look at education where it is now we have to figure out how do we provide a quality education to all of our kids in this state," said Rep. Carter.

The task force will continue to work toward a consensus on recommendations for reigning in costs of the program.

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