Funding for TOPS uncertain; parents, students concerned

Funding for TOPS uncertain; parents, students concerned
FOX 8 Photo/FILE

(WVUE) - The fate of many students counting on scholarship money remains uncertain as funding for the TOPS program hangs in the balance. The special session resulted in no bills to help replace nearly $1 billion in revenue that will soon be lost to expiring temporary taxes. Now, students are concerned about the future of their education.

Ben Franklin senior Irvin Johnson has big plans for the future.

"I want to become an orthopedic surgeon," said Johnson.

He eventually wants to attend a private, out of state school. But Johnson can't afford it just yet. It's why he's looking to start in state with the help of the TOPS scholarship program.

"I planned on going to UL my first year, then transferring to TCU," he said.

But with no budget fix in sight, TOPS could face big cuts, to the tune of more than $230 million.

"If they do cut it, it'll decrease my chances," said Johnson.

Johnson is not alone. Others banking on a state school may start making other plans.

"I know a lot of people that are looking at LSU and that would be a big problem for them," said Ben Franklin senior Joshua Jordan.

During the special session, the House failed to pass one bill to help shore up the nearly $1 billion shortfall the state will face once it loses a temporary sales tax July 1. Now, Gov. John Bel Edwards says significant cuts to education could be on the way, including funding for TOPS.

"I don't understand why you cut education. Education is our future," said parent and teacher Allyson McKinney. "If we don't prepare the students now, we have no future later. So, don't cut what we need now. We need to cut the pork."

Now, leaders like Governor Edwards are worried students could start looking to out of state colleges, due to possible cuts. Representatives with the governor's office indicate Edwards is working diligently to push for a plan that fully funds TOPS.

In a statement they say, in part:

"We're beginning to hear too many stories from students who are considering leaving Louisiana because of the uncertainty surrounding funding for TOPS. This could have been avoided had the legislature acted during the special session to eliminate the fiscal cliff that is threatening the future of TOPS...We are hopeful the legislature will get work with us to get it done before students choose to leave our state."

Students may not learn the fate of the TOPS scholarship program until June.