TOPS scholarships now 66% underfunded, according to La. commissioner

Out of state universities using budget crisis to poach students

BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - Governor John Bel Edwards' administration says only one-third of the TOPS scholarship program is funded.

Earlier this month, House lawmakers moved money around to bring the amount of TOPS funding to 75 percent, but Commissioner of Administration Jay Dardenne says the move was unconstitutional and the $100 million must be moved back.

"You can't just move the same finite amount of money around and expect to satisfy all of your needs. It's just not going to happen," Dardenne said. "So I hope the legislature realizes the need to try and generate some additional dollars and to do that in a responsible way that provides funding to TOPS for students in Louisiana but also takes care of our responsibilities in healthcare."

Moving the money out of TOPS would mean the program would only be one-third funded.

On Thursday, Dardenne urged the Senate Finance Committee to reconsider the budget introduced by the House and take a closer look at the money moved around to fund TOPS.

"It's actually diverting money that's collected from fees to help pay the bonded indebtedness of the state," Dardenne said. "A fee must go to support the service that it is imposed for, otherwise it's a tax. We don't think you can redirect that money in this session because the regular session doesn't allow a tax increase."

While lawmakers scramble to find money, parents and students are left in limbo because of the unpredictable future of the TOPS program.

As it stands currently, which includes the House money moving measure, TOPS is still 25 percent underfunded and the cuts will be felt across the board from the students with the highest to the lowest qualifying scores.

"We passed a bill by Senator Morris that everybody would share equally in the cuts, and that's why every student would be subject to the 25 percent cut at this point," Kenner Rep. Julie Stokes said.

Stokes introduced an amendment that would have funded the top five percent of students with full TOPS scholarships, but the amendment failed.

She said out-of-state universities are taking notice and want to take those top performing students from the Louisiana.

"Kids are now making decisions that they are going to go to those other schools that are going to give them full ride tuition," Stokes said. "They're going to give them living expenses and they're going to give them room and board and some pocket money and LSU is going to give them 75 percent from TOPS."

But according to Dardenne, the 75 percent is not set in stone.

Dardenne told FOX 8 that Governor Edwards will announce his call to lawmakers for another special session on Friday.

The commissioner believes TOPS will be fully funded after a special session.

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