Lawmakers: TOPS likely to be only partially funded for 2nd year in a row

TOPS funding worries

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Louisiana's popular scholarship program likely will not be fully funded for the second year in a row, according to lawmakers.

"My hunch and what I would tell the people is to plan on it being partially funded, because clearly we are going into a shortfall again this session," said state Sen. Conrad Appel of Metairie.

"I doubt it," Sen. Wesley Bishop of New Orleans said when asked if he believed the program will be fully funded for the upcoming fall semester. "TOPS is a consideration, but it's not the only consideration."

The skepticism surrounding whether the state can pay for TOPS comes from the state's ongoing financial woes. TOPS is only 70 percent funded for the 2017-2018 school year.

For the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1, there is a $400 million deficit, and TOPS is one of many programs and state agencies in need of money.

Bishop believes one of the priorities higher than TOPS is funding higher education. Currently, higher education is funded at 75 percent of what it was at the beginning of the Jindal administration.

"It gets to be somewhat difficult with all of the different financial problems that we are having. It seems that most of the conversation is going toward TOPS, and I think there are priorities that are as high if not higher for many of my colleagues," Bishop said. "To not fund higher education but to be hell bent on funding TOPS seems to be two things that can't exist at the same time."

"We're hurting badly on funding infrastructure, roads and bridges," Appel said. "We have to come to some reasonable resolution between the administration and legislature to try and move the state forward."

But moving the state forward when it comes to TOPS is where lawmakers and Gov. John Bel Edwards do not agree. In a statement, Edwards called funding TOPS his top priority and said his office put a plan in place to fully fund the program but the legislature rejected it.

But while the discussion continues, college students and parents remain in financial limbo.

"It's a piece in a big chess game, unfortunately, and they're caught in the middle. I know they don't want to hear that but that's a fact," Appel said. "We really are wrangling over the future of Louisiana, the long-term future. This isn't just about the short-term let's fund TOPS this year."

The future of qualifying for TOPS is also being debated at the Capitol. Some lawmakers, like  Appel, believe TOPS should be measured by GPA/test scores and not based on the financial need of the student. Lawmakers like Bishop believe TOPS should be based on both GPA/test scores and the student's financial need.

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